Reported by Russ and Tiña De Maris for RV Travel.
More than two dozen labor unions are calling on the federal government to rein in autonomous vehicles. In a letter to the Secretary of Transportation, the unions wrote that driverless vehicles are a menace to society. The unions say that federal officials should dig deep into the record and reliability of driverless vehicles.
Unions have “grave concerns”
The Transport Workers Union of America, Transportation Trades Department, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and about two dozen other unions outlined their worries to Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, last Wednesday. “We write today to reiterate our grave safety concerns about the expanded testing and operation of automated driving system-equipped vehicles,” the letter read. “Given the recent surge in both the number of cities operating these vehicles on public streets and the number of crashes and safety incidents involving these vehicles, we urge you to take immediate action to bring long overdue federal leadership to this issue.”
The letter falls on the heels of an incident in San Francisco, California, last month involving a General Motors Cruise robotaxi. A hit-and-run driver clobbered a pedestrian, throwing the person into the path of a Cruise vehicle. It then dragged the unfortunate victim an additional 20 feet before finally hitting the brakes.
“Driverless vehicles are a menace to society”
“Driverless vehicles are a menace to society,” Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen said in a news release. “These untested, unproven robots block traffic, hinder first responders and emergency services, and harm pedestrians and other road users with tragically fatal consequences.”
Samuelsen’s statements are grounded in fact. Last August, San Francisco’s Fire Department said it had fielded 55 reports of driverless vehicles blocking emergency responders up to that point in the year. One of them, last June, showed a driverless car stopped up a road where first responders were attempting to get to the scene of a mass shooting. Last week, GM said it was recalling all of its robotaxis for a “software update.”
A small problem—with small people
The unions call for more stringent federal oversight of self-driving vehicles just adds a little more to the heap. After the San Francisco pedestrian was dragged down the street, the feds started a probe without prompting. What surfaced were GM internal documents that showed the GM software algorithm had a small problem—with small people.
The software had issues identifying children. According to internal safety documents reviewed by The Intercept, “Cruise AVs [autonomous vehicles] may not exercise additional care around children,” who are treated as a special category of pedestrian based on their unpredictable behaviors, and the robotaxis may “need the ability to distinguish children from adults so we can display additional caution around children.”
A GM spokesman responded with a statement: “Our driverless operations have always performed higher than a human benchmark, and we constantly evaluate and mitigate new risks to continuously improve… We have the lowest risk tolerance for contact with children and treat them with the highest safety priority. No vehicle — human operated or autonomous — will have zero risk of collision.” GM’s Erik Moser added that “the risk of the potential collision with a child could occur once every 300 million miles at fleet driving, which we have since improved upon. There have been no on-road collisions with children.”
Read more here.