New Mexico’s Department of Transportation recently held a summit on autonomous vehicles. The theme was that New Mexico needs to be ready. Semi-autonomous vehicles are operated with a driver behind the wheel. Some semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the roads. Fully autonomous vehicles are anticipated to hit roads in the coming years – cars and trucks that are fully automated and driverless. This raises concerns about what happens after a New Mexico car accident involving an autonomous vehicle.
The summit on autonomous vehicles followed a fatal car accident in Tempe, Arizona. Tragically, a woman was struck and killed in Tempe while she was crossing the street. She was hit by another woman who was behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber. Tempe police had stated that the car did not slow down before striking the pedestrian, which has since been confirmed by review of video footage of the accident. The Uber accident in Tempe is alarming because either the pedestrian who was struck was not recognized by the car’s autonomous system as a pedestrian, or, if she was, something went wrong applying the brakes. The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Safety Administration investigated the accident to try to figure out what happened.
Among the technological innovations discussed at the summit on autonomous vehicles organized by the Department of Transportation were the five levels of automation. Level 1 vehicles have automatic braking and cruise control. Level 2 vehicles assist with steering and acceleration. At Level 3, conditional automation, a driver is still needed and is expected to jump in and take over under certain circumstances. At Level 4, a vehicle can drive itself under some conditions, without input from a driver. At Level 5, a vehicle can drive itself under all conditions and may not include the option to let a driver take over.