Driverless Crashes Keep Happening: How Vulnerable Are You With So Many Testing?

Another day, another driverless car crash. How many of these test cars are flying around without us knowing? This latest incident happened on October 28 and involved a Pony.ai autonomous test vehicle in California, without a driver.

The California DMV has suspended the driverless testing company’s license

Driverless vehicles
Pony.ai driverless vehicles | Getty

Now the Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates autonomous testing in Cali, has suspended Pony.ai’s license to do so. An accident report was filed after the car, operating in the autonomous mode in Fremont, crashed into a center divider and plowed down a traffic sign. It was attempting a right turn when the crash happened.

Pony.ai is the Chinese startup that Toyota has invested over $400 million in. Toyota confirmed the accident to Automotive News saying, “There were no injuries and no other vehicles were involved.” The DMV confirmed the suspension in a statement, “On November 19, the DMV notified Pony.ai that the department is suspending its driverless testing permit, effective immediately, following a reported solo collision in Fremont, California, on October 28.”

But what might be more alarming is that the DMV says Pony.ai has 10 Hyundai Kona EVs permitted to drive autonomously. And this is only one company. A total of eight companies have been given driverless testing permits in California. According to Policy Advice, there are almost 1,500 self-driving cars in the US. 

How many companies are developing a driverless vehicle?

Driverless vehicles
Driverless vehicles | Getty

In all, there are 80 companies working on developing an autonomous vehicle, with 62 of them registered in Cali alone. Testing is also taking place in Las Vegas, Arizona, and Michigan, to name but a few. Waymo, an affiliate of Google, and GM-funded Cruise are just two of the 80 companies. So the likelihood of one of these driving next to you is not limited to California. 

The suspension still allows the company to test with a safety driver. “We immediately launched an investigation, and are in contact with the California DMV about the incident,” a Pony.ai spokesman said. He said safety is the “foundation” of the company’s autonomous vehicle technology. And he said most of its driverless testing involves safety drivers, which will have to be the case anyway until the suspension is lifted. 

Who was the first person killed in a driverless vehicle crash?

Driverless vehicles
Driverless vehicles | Getty

The first recorded instance of a pedestrian casualty happened in March 2018, in Tempe, Arizona. Elaine Herzberg was bicycling when she was hit by an Uber driverless vehicle. The autonomous vehicle did have a safety driver in the driver’s seat. Uber suspended driverless testing in Arizona after her death was announced. But this wasn’t the first death related to driverless vehicles. 

That first death took place in a semi-autonomous vehicle two years earlier. For what is essentially a robot, driving brings up many obstacles and distractions it can’t prepare for. As much of a panacea as self-driving was predicted to be, companies are finding that it is much harder to improve on human control of vehicles. 

It is now estimated it will take many more years to perfect autonomous driving. Until that day comes, look both ways before venturing through a green light or making a turn. You never know when the car charging at you is being tested without a human driver.