A tragic argument for self-driving cars

A tragic argument for self-driving cars

A recent event in our neighborhood has been weighing pretty heavily on me.

Several years ago, we got a new dog.

One of our cats wasn’t happy with the dog. We’ve generally had dogs and cats together, but this dog was particularly bouncy. Not aggressive, but just overly excitable and without much self-control.

The cat ran away…

When cats run away, they are almost always on the same block, or at least, right nearby. When dogs get scared, they can run for miles, and then have no idea where they are. Cats go to ground within territory they know…at least, that’s what an animal expert I know told me.

I found the cat across the street at a neighbor’s…we didn’t know that neighbor well.

Our neighbor already knew “Leo”…he would go over and see her, prior to the dog becoming part of the family. She was so nice in taking care of him while he was there, and even more nice in giving us Leo back.

Leo and the dog eventually came to terms.

Later, when our neighbor became more infirm, she couldn’t keep a pet of her own…and gave us cat items she had.

Still later, I believe she had a stroke.

She started using a walker.

It would take her a few minutes to get out of the car.

One or two relatives apparently moved in with her as caregivers.

Recently, there was a tragic incident.

Our neighbor hit a person in a wheelchair while driving.

The person in the wheelchair died a couple of days later, apparently from injuries sustained.

We first heard about it when it was reported as a hit and run.

We feel terrible for the victim, and for the victim’s family.

We are also very worried about what is going to happen with our neighbor.

She is cooperating with the police investigation. They found her a few blocks away from the accident…near (possibly at) her house.

Of course, we don’t know what actually happened. We don’t know if she even knew she hit the wheelchair.

If she did, my best guess is that she was going to her home to get help from her caregivers. The house is literally under five minutes away from the intersection. It would have taken her that long to get out of the car where he was, and she couldn’t be much help.

She is older, and I had someone ask me if I thought she was sharp enough to know she should have waited at the scene.

I said yes, and I also thought she was compassionate enough to risk going to jail in order to get help for the victim.

We will follow what happens.

It’s been especially hard to read heartless comments on line about what happened…speculation and assertions about our neighbor’s intentions.

I’ve also seen more caring comments talking about what to do about senior drivers. Yes, senior drivers are involved in more fatal accidents than the average…although not as many as young drivers.

We don’t know if age was a contributing factor. We don’t know that our neighbor’s own disability was a contributing factor.

We do know one thing…a human being was driving that car.

A self-driving car would not have hit the wheelchair, sparing both of them (and everyone who knows them).

This will be part of our future.

When I was speaking about self-driving cars to a group, I had someone say, “What if a three-year old ran out into the street?”

I’d much rather have a self-driving car in that situation. It’s going to avoid the collision…it likely won’t know it’s a child, and no, it won’t have compassion, the empathy a human being would have. It will avoid the child with the same efficiency with which it would avoid a rolling garbage can.

Humans, in that situation, may panic. It happens many times a year that a person steps on the gas instead of the brake when something goes wrong.

Right now, the biggest barrier to saving lives with self-driving cars is emotional and political.

No, they aren’t as good as the best human drivers are in all situations.

Yes, they are good enough right now to do some things better than the average human driver…and by doing so, reduce tragedies like this one.

Nothing is going to make what has already happened better. I know that for me, this is partially just an emotional desire to have some sort of impact on happens in the future…just like the people who want more driver testing for seniors, or who wanted to blame the driver for being on a cellphone (which almost certainly wasn’t the case).

Even if I can’t make it real, though, I think I’ll see a future within in the next ten years where horrible happenings like this are reduced…thanks to self-driving cars.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog.

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