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US self-driving fatality could affect Australian trials

In early May, the driver of a Tesla S sports car died after a collision, prompting an investigation into Tesla’s self-driving technology. This has come months after Australia’s first-ever automated car trials in South Australia, and months before the first trials in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia.

The road agency helping set up the Australian trials, ARRB Group, has expressed concern that the US fatality could affect the Australian trials, especially considering the fact that the technology being trialled is very similar to Tesla’s.

The US fatality represents a “pivotal moment in the evolution of autonomy” and how the public responds will determine the future of driverless cars, said the group’s chief scientist Michael Regan in a comment to the ABC.

At present, it appears that the public may not be ready for self-driving technology according to recent survey data. A survey of over 400 experts from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers was conducted, asking them (on a scale of one to five) how comfortable they would feel using self-driving technology to take their children to school. More than two-thirds of respondents gave the concept a three or lower, indicating that they did not feel comfortable with the concept.

This sentiment seems to be echoed by consumers, according to a survey by Autotrader which found that two-thirds of respondents would not feel confident enough to take their eyes off the road while using self-driving technology.

However, this conflicts with Tesla’s latest statement that its self-driving technology is meant to be used only as a driving assistance feature and that drivers must keep pay attention and keep both hands on the wheel at all times, being prepared to take over at any time.

The confusion about how autonomous drivers need to be while using self-driving technology paired with the recent fatality in the US could hold back the testing and deployment of the technology in Australia.

According to ARRB Group’s Michael Regan however, it is important to learn from the crash and not to legislate against driverless cars because of one incident, especially considering “it’s inevitable that every year people will die on roads around the world”.

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