IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

New York City to Allow Driverless Car Tests

City officials said Thursday that they would begin to permit operators to test drive autonomous autos on New York City streets, in an announcement that divided street safety advocates.

New York City
(TNS) — The rollout of driverless cars in American cities has so far been pockmarked by speed bumps.

In Tempe, Ariz., a self-driving car hit a woman walking her bicycle, killing her. In Austin, Texas, the expansion of autonomous cars is said to have slowed emergency response times.

And in San Francisco, where a rush of robotaxis has arrived, the city has sued a California state regulatory commission that allowed for an expanded rollout of the futuristic autos. A CNBC headline blared that the city’s robotaxi program has been a “mess.”

But advocates for the technology say it will ultimately make streets safer. And Mayor Adams’ administration, bowing to the drumbeat of innovation, said Thursday that it would begin to permit operators to test drive autonomous autos on city streets, in an announcement that divided street safety advocates.

“This technology is coming whether we like it or not, so we’re going to make sure that we get it right,” Adams said in a statement. “If we do, our streets can be safer.”

Google’s Waymo self-driving car company has reported that its vehicles have logged 85% less injury-causing crashes than human-operated autos, based on more than 7 million miles of driverless travel. But the data is mixed: Other research has found that accidents are more common with driverless cars.

And New York’s unpredictable streetscape — clogged with sluggish traffic, rife with weaving bikes and crisscrossed by jaywalkers with their heads in their phones — would seem a uniquely challenging venue for the new technology.

“This kind of testing hasn’t even been completed in other parts of the country,” said state Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat and member of the Transportation Committee. “It would behoove New York City to wait to see some of those other results of driverless technology in less dense urban settings.”

Liu expressed difficulty imagining a self-driving car navigating around Times Square, or negotiating traffic in the notoriously tricky Kew Gardens Interchange. “This is an example of something where New York City does not have to be first,” the senator said by phone.

Adams administration officials underlined that New York’s program will differ from the rocky rollout in San Francisco.

In New York, any company that wins approval to try out autonomous cars would be required to have a driver in the car during trials. The drivers would not be permitted to ride for more than two hours without a break.

But critics noted that the mere presence of a human in a driverless car has not been a foolproof method to ensure safety during trials. In the fatal crash in Tempe, in 2018, a driver was behind the wheel of the auto.

“Is it realistic to assume that in New York City, you’re going to unleash these untested technologies and then ask a human to be there at the ready at every possible moment — never to look away, never to be on their phone?” asked a skeptical Danny Harris, director of the Transportation Alternatives street safety group.

“I don’t know how any of this can be set up to succeed,” Harris said.

To make streets safer, New York should be investing in bus and bike lanes, rather than novel technologies, he argued.

But street safety advocates varied in their views on the city’s slight pivot toward driverless cars.

Eric McClure, the head of StreetsPAC, a local political organization committed to street safety, said he thought the city was implementing appropriate guard rails for the pilot program.

He predicted there would be a long road from the pilot program to a broader rollout. And he said testing the vehicles in the safest way possible makes sense.

“We’ve seen an increase in dangerous driving in New York City over the past few years. Certainly, I don’t think autonomous vehicles are going to speed recklessly,” McClure said. “There are plenty of drivers on the roads who probably should be replaced at some point.”

© 2024 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.