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How do self-driving cars work?

For years, people have been excited about the prospect of autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. How convenient would it be to sit in your own vehicle, program your destination into the computer and then sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee and your morning news apps while your car drives you to work? However, we still have a long way to go until technology like this is available for the public – and reasonably safe. As a recent, fatal accident illustrated, autonomous technology may not yet be ready for consumers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

The Uber company has been one of those pioneering the self-driving vehicle industry. Autonomous vehicle technology works in the following ways:

  • A system of cameras and lidar sensors mounted around the vehicle
  • The ability to detect nearby obstacles and objects, including other vehicles, pedestrians, lane markings and road signs
  • A safety driver inside autonomous vehicles under testing programs to take the wheel in an emergency

You may have heard about the accident in March, when an SUV with Uber self-driving technology in Tempe, Arizona, failed to detect a woman walking her bicycle across the street. She was struck and killed. A dashboard camera inside the vehicle indicated the safety driver was distracted and had not been watching the road at the time of the accident.

Public feelings about self-driving cars seem to run two ways. Some people say that the technology is too dangerous to be on the streets and that computers cannot discern dangerous situations or make appropriate decisions like human drivers can. Others claim human error has been responsible for millions more accidents than autonomous vehicle technology is likely to be accountable for after extensive testing and engineering. Whatever your position is, you may agree that until manufacturers prove that new technologies are safe, companies that fail to protect the public should be liable for injuries or fatalities.

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