Police say a Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking outside a crosswalk the night of Sunday, March 18 in the Phoenix area when she was hit by an Uber self-driving car. Herzberg died from her injuries. (@zombieite/Flickr photo)

LETTER: Self-driving technology should not be allowed on our roads

“I personally refuse to share the roads with driver-less cars, in whatever form they take.”

As a resident of Delta and registered professional engineer (P.Eng) in the province of B.C., I have been watching with increasing alarm the push for self-driving (or “auto-pilot”) technologies to be deployed in passenger cars and trucks. As a P.Eng I swore an oath to keep public safety front and centre in my work and in my life, and the more I read about the failures of the technology and the ways that the manufacturers are manipulating their programs for their own financial benefit and putting the public at risk, the more I feel I must take action to express my concern. 

I read with utter disbelief that ride share company Uber has deliberately reduced the self-driving sensing systems in their latest Volvo test cars , thus increasing the risk of an accident in the eyes of experts in the field. This has cost a family in Texas the loss of a wife and a mother. The terrible crash of a Tesla Model X in California that left the driver dead and caused a serious fire, plus another incident where a Tesla on auto-pilot crashed into a fire truck, and the beheading of a Tesla driver last year — all in spectacular, terrible crashes — were avoidable.

READ MORE: Woman struck and killed by self-driving Uber vehicle

Unfortunately, if things continue on this path this is going to be the outcome more often than not from failures of this technology. This program is a huge mistake. It’s also a terrible waste of precious research and scientific resources which could better be put to use fighting overpopulation and global warming.

What happened in Texas could easily have involved a group of school children. What if the Model X in California had struck a city bus?

When the technology fails it is more likely to happen at high speeds and involve high-risk situations, and as a result it will create more chaos and death than if an actively engaged driver had been consciously aware of what was going on and could [have] at least taken some sort of action in advance of when the tech could to limit the [crash’s] effects.

SEE ALSO: Deadly crash raises questions about Uber self-driving system

Self-driving tech just gives already distracted drivers a dangerously risky false sense of security and increased risk of being even more distracted as they ignore the car’s path and progress. Or worse, it allows them to become deliberately distracted. In a recent Cadillac advertisement, a driver enabling this technology in one of their cars is shown crossing his arms across his chest after engaging the auto-pilot, thus putting his and the public’s safety at risk as he is no longer in a position to instantly take hold the steering wheel for control. This is incredibly ignorant of GM/Cadillac to have put such risky behaviour on display as a so called “selling feature.”

Self-driving tech cannot ever replace a human driver’s ability to see and evaluate complex events and situations coming before auto-pilot technology can and take action.

Example: if a driver sees in his peripheral vision a child chasing a ball heading towards the street, and the driver knows the child will likely chase the ball between parked cars out onto the street, he or she can already be braking their vehicle to slow it down and avoid hitting the child. By contrast, object sensing systems in self-driving tech will not sense and understand the risk as it has no human-like perception, and then would only see the child once he is already on the street. By that time it will be too late, [and we’ll] have one dead child and grieving parents and family.

RELATED: Uber suspends self-driving car tests after fatality

I personally refuse to share the roads with driver-less cars, in whatever form they take. I have a right to drive on B.C. roads and highways without being exposed to such terrible risks as what self-driving technology represents. That the industry is considering outfitting tractor trailer trucks with this technology is completely out of control and irresponsible. These will be a 50,000 to 100,000 pound poorly guided missile hurtling down our highways.

Please take action on behalf of myself and all British Columbians and visitors to our province and ban this technology from ever being allowed.

David R. Jones, P.Eng (Electrical), North Delta, via email



editor@northdeltareporter.com

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