Democracy Dies in Darkness

Innovations

A driverless bus got into a crash during its first day on the job

By Hayley Tsukayama

November 9, 2017 at 4:32 PM

A vehicle similar to a driverless shuttle that started running in Las Vegas recently. (Courtesy of Navya/)

A driverless shuttle in Las Vegas made its official debut on public streets. Two hours into the job, it got into its first crash.

As it turns out, you don’t have to be human to have a bad first day of work.

To be fair to the shuttle, the fender bender Wednesday was caused by the other driver — in this case a delivery truck that backed into the front of the shuttle, which stopped after it sensed it was in danger of collision, according to a report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police department confirmed to The Washington Post that the delivery truck driver was at fault, and had been cited.

The shuttle, which is being run through a partnership of vehicle company Navya and transportation firm Keolis, had already been through a successful controlled trial in Vegas. It is back up and running Thursday, said Chris Barker, a Keolis spokesman, who added that the shuttle couldn’t back up itself to avoid the collision because there was traffic behind it. “The autonomous system operated as it was supposed to,” he said.

Las Vegas’s shuttle is not the only driverless vehicle to end up in a crash that wasn’t its fault. In fact, tests from Google’s driverless car project reports that most — but not all —  of the accidents it’s logged appear to be the fault of a human, in some capacity. In some cases, it’s been the fault of the human sitting behind the wheel of the driverless car; other crashes have been due to outside vehicles. The same seems to hold true for driverless vehicles being tested on roads in California, according to the accident reports that testers are compelled to file with the state.

Keolis Transit America’s Maurice Bell, its vice president of mobility solutions, told the Review-Journal that the firm would take the information from the crash and learn from it. “That’s probably the positive point of all this,” he told the newspaper, “is that we have extensive data to be able to tell us what occurred and what we could do in the future to improve upon.”

The debate over driverless vehicles and their effect on road safety continues to be a hot-button issue, as more cars take to the road. Nevada has allowed testing of autonomous semi-trucks. Lyft said this summer that it’s planning to launch self-driving ride-shares by the end of the year, though there will still be someone in the driver’s seat. California recently approved rules that will let autonomous vehicles drive without anyone behind the wheel. And a recent study from the RAND Corporation, published earlier this week, made an impassioned case for the government to allow driverless cars onto the road even if they’re not yet “perfect,” if they can prove they’re safer than what we have now.

“Waiting for the cars to perform flawlessly is a clear example of the perfect being the enemy of the good,” said RAND researcher Nidhi Kalra.

As the Las Vegas shuttle accident illustrates, however, one of the biggest challenges may be getting human drivers used to autonomous vehicles.


Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

Post Recommends
Outbrain

You obviously love great journalism.

With special savings on our Basic Digital package, you’ll never miss a single story again.

Already a subscriber?

Secure & Encrypted