Self-driving cars could kill hundreds of people every year in the early going but save many more lives, a Toyota executive said Thursday at an event near the New York Auto Show.
After a self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian in Arizona earlier this month, concerns about the movement toward autonomous transportation have escalated.
But Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz said Thursday that more deaths are coming as automakers and tech companies pursue self-driving vehicles.
“The reality is there will be mistakes along the way,” he said at a Reuters news event moderated by reporter David Shepardson. “A hundred or 500 or a thousand people could lose their lives in accidents like we’ve seen in Arizona.”
The question is whether it’s worth it if self-driving cars also avert tens of thousands of deadly accidents every year.
Lentz said Americans aren’t yet ready to accept that paradigm.
“That’s really going to slow down the adoption of autonomous driving,” he said.
Lentz estimated that autonomous vehicles could eventually save 35,000 lives annually, representing the 98% of deadly crashes blamed on driver error.
The auto industry needs to “convince consumers that the idea of the computer driving your car” can be “a good thing,” Lentz said.
Lentz’s comments came after Toyota quickly suspended its own self-driving car tests following the Uber crash.
But the suspension won’t last long, he said.
“I think we’ll be testing again soon,” he said. “The reason that we paused was more because we were concerned about the impact it had on our drivers, not necessarily our technology.”
In “a short period of time,” Toyota will resume tests, he said.
The company has set a goal of introducing a system that can partially drive the vehicle by the 2020 Summer Olympics.
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