Self-driving vehicles are back on Arizona roads, a little more than a year after an SUV struck and killed a woman in the Phoenix area. That accident in March of 2018 was an eye-opening one, and Uber, the company that had been testing the vehicles, quickly announced that it was pausing all of its self-driving operations around the country, including automated freight hauling on Interstate 40 between Topock and Sanders.
This week, another company announced it has been carrying mail in autonomous semi-trucks between Phoenix and Tucson since May, and with little fanfare. San Diego-based TuSimple says it is partnering with UPS in testing what is called “Level 4” autonomous technology, meaning that the truck’s on board computer is in control during the entire drive.
State law, thanks to Gov. Doug Ducey’s embrace of the technology’s economic potential, allows for the testing to go on. However, Arizona drivers ought to be very aware that there are driverless vehicles sharing the roadways with them. To be clear, TuSimple hasn’t done anything wrong, but it’s pretty obvious that the company didn’t do much until now to make its presence on our roadways known.
It’s concerning that these companies are allowed to use public roads and highways as a taxpayer-funded test track. Companies that want to test self-driving vehicles ought to use contained roadways, paid for with their own deep pockets. (TuSimple, by the way, is valued at $1.1 billion). Public highways and unwitting drivers should not be a cheap avenue for research and development.
Ducey’s 2015 executive order allowing for the testing of these vehicles also created a committee to advise state agencies on “how best to advance the testing operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads.” According to AZ Mirror, an independent online news publication, that committee met just once, in 2016, and never again. What a shame. Ducey wanted Arizona to be among the first to embrace self-driving technology because of the perceived economic benefits to the state. Early adopters of new technology, after all, are often well rewarded when the products reaches the mainstream. However, Arizona is shirking its responsibilities by not providing better guidance and oversight to the companies operating within our borders.
— Today’s News-Herald