Driverless cars will proceed at safer pace

One of those “self-driving” cars struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, last week. She was crossing the street when she was struck by the vehicle, which was traveling at about 40 mph. Police said the vehicle, with a person in the driver’s seat but not operating the controls, did not brake.

Uber, which was using the car in a nationwide test, pulled all of its autonomous vehicles off the streets after the accident. Some commentators argued the fatality would set self-driving cars and trucks back years.

Perhaps so, but it will not and should not end the research and development. Much of the technology we regard as safe today was not always accepted as such. Motor vehicles of all types were regarded with suspicion for years after they were invented. The inevitable crashes did nothing to inspire confidence.

The same can be said for railroads, steamboats and airplanes. At one time, people traveling on riverboats worried about boiler explosions.

And the canned foods we rely on might never have been offered widely, had lapses by a few early processors who allowed bacteria to infect cans’ contents been allowed to halt development.

Technology will march on, but perhaps at a slower, more deliberate — and safer — pace. At some point, fully autonomous vehicles will be common.

Clearly, however, some bugs need to be worked out. The death in Tempe is a reminder that sometimes, our trust in technology outruns our ability to keep it under control.

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