Nearly 40,000 people are killed in car accidents in the U.S. each year. The autonomous-driving industry—companies like Uber, Cruise and Waymo—in a race to implement driverless technology, are pitching a safer alternative.
Yet in March, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles while walking her bike in Tempe, Ariz., making her the first pedestrian fatality from an autonomous car, and the fourth overall.
Equipped with LiDAR technology, a laser remote-sensing method, Uber’s vehicle should have easily detected Herzberg on a wide-open roadway. It also had a human back-up driver at the wheel who, contrary to instructions, was not watching the road at the time of the accident.
Despite these safeguards, the car did not slow down before hitting Herzberg, nor display any preemptive knowledge of her location: The exact flaw remains undetermined.
Arizona, which suspended Uber from testing on its roads following the accident, fostered a regulation-free environment for self-driving cars. The state allows unmanned autonomous cars to test-drive in public without special permits: A driverless car can be on Arizona roads as long as it has a basic insurance plan and a passenger with a license.
Last year, when one of Uber’s self-driving cars collided with another vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey said that extra safety regulations weren’t necessary.
California has already suspended Uber for test-driving without these permits in San Francisco. But Uber is not the only company testing self-driving cars on public roads. Less than a week after Herzberg’s death, one of Tesla’s software engineers was killed crashing into a highway medium in Mountain View, Ca., while testing the car’s semi-autonomous mode.
Waymo, who still tests in Arizona, is going full speed ahead with plans to launch an autonomous taxi service. Almost ten days after Herzberg’s death, the company purchased 20,000 self-driving vehicles, which it said would allow them to make a million trips a day by 2020.
When asked about Herzberg’s death, John Krafcik, Waymo’s CEO, said the company’s cars “would be able to handle situations like that.”
The legal and ethical implications of autonomous vehicles are beginning to manifest, but currently no national regulations exist to govern autonomous testing.
Is this really the road we want to take?
By Sirene Dagher.
A BITTER PILL
The progress towards male birth control inches onward, but modern development of a new birth control drug looks noticeably different than it did in the 1950s.
A recent study reports that a male contraceptive pill in the works has successfully reduced the hormones responsible for sperm production without serious side effects, according to an article published by CNN.
“Our goal — and everyone’s goal in this field — is to develop a method for men that has minimal side effects, and the holy grail would be to develop something that also has a health benefit for men,” Dr. Stephanie Page, lead author of the study, said to CNN.
Researchers demonstrated there were no acute safety concerns with the male pill. But during the development of the female pill, test subjects were not afforded the luxury of safe and cautious treatment, let alone voluntary participation.
Researchers forced institutionalized women in Massachusetts to participate in trials, along with medical students in Puerto Rico who had the option to either participate or be expelled, according to The New Republic.
“Their racist paternalism had real consequences, arguably hindering the development of the pill,” wrote Ann Friedman, a writer for The New Republic.
Furthermore, the first female birth control pill to be available to the public had hormone content high enough to cause rare increases in heart attack and stroke, and it wasn’t discontinued until after a decade of use, according to Elizabeth Kiefer in The Lily.
The more common side effects of the pill — weight gain, water retention, nausea, dizziness, breast tenderness, headaches, vomiting — were not initially disclosed in packaging out of concern their inclusion would undermine the authority of physicians in a male-dominated field.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that Congress compelled the FDA to include a package insert detailing potential side effects, ten years following the release of Enovid, the first brand of birth control approved by the FDA.
For now, Kiefer wrote that preventing pregnancy will continue to be primarily women’s responsibility.
“I also wonder if the tip of the scale, both literal and otherwise, might be a good reminder for men who have had the luxury of a particular kind of privilege, and freedom: that women have been pulling this extra weight all along,” she wrote.”
By Anne Marie Tamburro.