Quartz.com had a fascinating article about how Boeing’s recent aircraft failures might also put a dent in public trust in self-driving or autonomous cars. According to the report, when experts wish to illustrate the potential safety of driverless cars, they point to the remarkable safety record of modern aircraft. They are justified in doing so. Only one fatal accident occurs for every 3 million large commercial passenger flights globally. Last year U.S. airlines saw their first fatal incident since 2009.
Much of this credit, experts say, goes not to pilots, but the aircraft themselves. Commercial aircraft are only in the hands of a human being for about three to six minutes during each flight. This is pretty much only during takeoff and landing. The rest of the time, automated systems are in charge. This has been the case at least for the last 10 years, when we’ve had the technology to fly commercial aircraft with little to no human assistance.
Parallels Between Air Travel and Driverless Cars
Experts say air travel is often seen as the gold standard for autonomous safety. After two Boeing Max 8 airplanes crashed – one in Indonesia and another in Africa – leaving a total of 346 people dead in the last six months, questions are being asked with regard to how safe autonomous technology is and what the loopholes may be. With these aircraft, Boeing sold safety features as expensive add-ons instead of as standard equipment. Pilots were trained with a one-hour iPad lesson.
After the Boeing fiasco, the question for self-driving cars is no longer whether we can trust the technology on our roads. The question is whether we can trust the companies and regulators developing these technologies to put safety first. The software for driverless cars will be far more complicated and untested compared to those in airplanes, which is a scary scenario. In fact, Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler, has said Boeing’s crisis hints at what could happen if autonomous algorithms go awry.
Whom Can You Trust?
As auto defect lawyers, we have been questioning the safety of driverless cars ever since tech companies and automakers started testing these vehicles on public roadways. We’ve seen fatal crashes involving autonomous vehicles and semi-autonomous features such as Tesla’s Autopilot. The Boeing crashes are yet another red flag that cautions regulators and automakers to proceed with caution when it comes to driverless cars. Because, at the end of the day, you cannot trust corporations that routinely put profits ahead of safety, to do the right thing.