Edmonton takes steps to prepare for self-driving vehicles, despite death of U.S. woman killed by autonomous car

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WATCH ABOVE: The City of Edmonton is preparing for the next step in vehicle technology. Julia Wong reports – Mar 31, 2018

Questions about self-driving vehicles and their efficacy continue to swirl, days after an Arizona woman was hit and killed by an autonomous Uber SUV and days before a report on the matter goes to a City of Edmonton committee.

A 49-year-old pedestrian was killed March 18 while crossing a street in Tempe, Arizona. The woman was struck by an Uber self-driving car. There was a driver behind the wheel, however the vehicle was in an autonomous mode.

READ MORE: Uber halts autonomous vehicle program in Toronto, U.S. after woman struck, killed by self-driving car

“It’s quite scary,” said Ange Erickson.

“People walking, biking, running that can jump out into the road – is a GPS-run vehicle really able to respond to that?”

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READ MORE: About 50% of Canadians say they trust self-driving cars

It’s a sentiment echoed by Chad Erickson.

“I can’t see self-driving vehicles able to anticipate. They can’t predict things. They can only determine what’s exactly in front of them at that moment,” he said.

But Councillor Andrew Knack said, even with the recent death in Arizona, self-driving vehicles can’t be ignored. Knack requested the report on automated vehicles, the law surrounding them and stakeholder engagement that will be presented to the Urban Planning Committee on Tuesday.

“Self-driving vehicles were never going to be perfect either. But when you compared it to the number of accidents and the results in deaths on the roads every day, it’s going to be far less,” he said.

“I think that’s part of why it’s important to keep working and testing on it. I think you want to make sure you do everything possible to reduce that. That’s why I think it’s important for cities like Edmonton to start testing.”

Currently, testing can only be done on private land or public roads that are closed to the public. A provincial framework expected to be released this summer could expand the options for testing locations.

How automated vehicles would deal with northern Canadian winter conditions is a question many have been asking. Knack said that could help draw companies to Edmonton for testing.

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“I think there will be a desire with these companies to set up in a city that has this type of climate, for them to understand how that will impact the operations of vehicles and what they need to do in terms of design,” he said.

Knack, who said manufacturers will likely bear the cost of infrastructure in Edmonton for self-driving vehicles, said the automated vehicles could have a lot of say in the long-term future of the city.

“I think it’s going to drastically change transportation, land use… [and] developing new neighbourhoods. You might not build garages anymore if you have a fleet-based system of self-driving vehicles,” he said.

Kristina Moser Wynnyk said news about the Arizona death was nerve-wracking to hear and she is on the fence about the technology.

“In the long run it might be a good thing. However, at the same time, it’s not necessarily good for people with jobs in that industry, whether it’s cab drivers or bus drivers,” she said.

She also said she is unsure about whether she has confidence in automated vehicles.

“To put that trust in to something that’s not 100 per cent right now is kind of scary.”

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