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Self-Driving Cars Aren't Quite Ready For City Streets

Nov 10, 2017
Originally published on November 11, 2017 12:18 am
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In the march to a future of self-driving cars, there was a setback this week. A self-driving shuttle got into a crash on its first day out on the streets of Las Vegas. Two hours into its debut, a large truck backed into it.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

An executive from a company that sponsors the shuttle was soon on the scene. Here's what Chris Barker of the company Keolis told Las Vegas TV station KSNV News 3.

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CHRIS BARKER: The shuttle was proceeding up this street. This truck sort of backing up. The shuttle stopped, and the truck kept moving and backed into the front of the vehicle even though the vehicle had actually safely stopped and was waiting for the truck to yield.

MCEVERS: Luckily no one was hurt.

SIEGEL: The American Automobile Association is a partner in this project, and it's not too worried about the damage to the vehicle.

JOHN MORENO: 'Tis but a scratch.

SIEGEL: That's AAA's John Moreno.

MORENO: It was lightly dented, and it literally has a Band-Aid over it much like a toddler falling and scraping its knee.

MCEVERS: Moreno says this is exactly the sort of real-world lesson the autonomous shuttle needed to learn. He says now they will reprogram it to get out safely the next time it is in a similar situation.

MORENO: You know, as we know, over 90 percent of all accidents are a result of some form of human error. And what happened in Las Vegas was no different.

MCEVERS: Linda Bailey works for the National Association of City Transportation Officials. It is planning for the day when all cities will have autonomous vehicles. She says people will be people, and cities with robot vehicles will have to take that into account.

LINDA BAILEY: The idea that we're going to start pointing fingers about it's the human's fault, is the computer's fault - the main thing for a city is to come in and say, how do we make this work for everybody?

SIEGEL: And despite the first-day drama, the Las Vegas shuttle is continuing its downtown loop and picking up passengers for free.

(SOUNDBITE OF VAMPIRE WEEKEND SONG, "OXFORD COMMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.