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Uber's Fatal AV Crash Likely to Encourage Stricter Test Standards

by Nathan Eddy
The implications of Uber's fatal accident during an autonomous vehicle driving test earlier this week continue to spread, with analysts predicting the incident could have a chilling effect on self-driving technology development, but also open up more of a dialogue concerning regulations of this market.

The consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has already called for a nationwide suspension of AV testing -- something Uber has already announced immediately following the accident -- and legislators at the local, state and federal level are sure to take a closer look at upcoming regulatory bills.

"This accident is certain to put a chill into regulatory discussions, perhaps as much outside the US as inside," Michael Ramsey, a Gartner analyst specializing in autonomous vehicle technology, told The Connected Car.

He called the regulatory landscape "completely muddy," with no real national legislation in place and a scattering of state-level regulations.

"A fatal accident brings into focus the need to have real rules in place for the testing, validation and licensing of autonomous vehicles as well as how to investigate crashes involving them," Ramsey said.

David Immerman, associate analyst for the Internet of Things (IoT) at 451 Research, agreed that public perception of autonomous vehicles would take a hit in the aftermath of the accident.

"Current criticisms seem to be that all AVs are dangerous and the same, which of course is not true when contemplating the recent California Department of Motor Vehicle's AV disengagement report," Immerman pointed out.

He said it is unlikely that Uber will return their fleet of AVs to public streets in the short term, but he doesn't see it having an impact on other AV providers testing as of right now.

"Transparency about AV performance I think will be important for both public perception and legislators," Immerman said.

Ramsey explained that in the US autonomous vehicle manufacturers are required to create a report that addresses about a dozen different areas around safety and how they address them as part of their efforts to pass US safety regulators, noting GM and Waymo both have published papers on this.

He also noted legislators are already working with the industry and there are efforts underway in the US, Singapore, the UK and Australia among others to create a set of rules for the vehicles.

"The key is to make the rules flexible in the beginning," he explained. "It might be better to have an advisory body review the roadworthiness of vehicles to start because there are too many unknowns to start making hard rules."

Immerman noted legislators have been relatively laissez-faire for AV testing to date and it's been mostly up to state and local governments in the country to form frameworks and regulations.

"It is still feasible to regulate AV providers to pass certain performance metrics before they hit public roads without restricting innovation," he said. "Regardless, with any future form of transportation there will be hiccups in the beginning and unfortunately with AVs those incidents are extremely costly and dangerous."

He also warned that it is reasonable to think there will be other accidents during the testing phase.

"Unfortunately the primary method to bettering machine and deep learning algorithms for self-driving systems is exposure to different driving scenarios and environments through real-world testing," Immerman said. "With any future form of transportation there will be hiccups in the beginning and unfortunately with AVs those incidents are extremely costly and dangerous."

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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