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The Future of Autonomous Driving: GM-Backed Cruise Ad Challenges Human Drivers

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In a bold move to promote its autonomous driving startup, Cruise, General Motors (GM) recently ran an attention-grabbing one-page advertisement in The New York Times. The ad, which stated “Humans are terrible drivers,” sparked controversy and criticism from safety advocates and experts. This article will delve into the details of the GM-backed Cruise ad, the responses it received, and the broader implications for the future of autonomous driving.

GM’s advertisement for Cruise aimed to highlight the potential of autonomous vehicles to save lives by eliminating human error, a leading cause of accidents. The ad prominently featured statistics on the number of Americans killed in car crashes in 2022, emphasizing the need for safer alternatives. However, this approach drew strong condemnation from former NHTSA administrator and safety advocate Joan Claybrook.

Claybrook argued that using the pain and suffering of car crash victims for self-promotion of an unproven and unsafe product was unethical. She further questioned the credibility of Cruise’s claims, citing concerns about safety incidents involving autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. Claybrook’s critique reflects the ongoing debate surrounding the safety and viability of autonomous driving technology.

Road safety has become a central theme in the messaging of autonomous driving companies like Cruise. They aim to win over public opinion and regulatory approval by highlighting the potential of autonomous vehicles to reduce accidents caused by human error. Cruise argues that local leaders and regulators should explore every option to improve road safety, including embracing emerging technologies like autonomous driving.

The need for improved road safety is underscored by the alarming rise in pedestrian deaths in the United States, reaching their highest levels in 40 years. Cruise contends that preventable human errors often contribute to these fatalities. They assert that the public deserves to know about the promising technology that could help address this pressing issue.

Cruise has made significant strides in its autonomous driving endeavors. It received approval to charge for its robotaxi rides in parts of San Francisco last summer and has since expanded its testing to Phoenix and several cities in Texas. However, the company’s activities have not been without setbacks and concerns.

Last year, a Cruise passenger was hospitalized after a vehicle stopped abruptly, causing a collision with an oncoming car. In response to reports of three crashes related to brake timing issues, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) initiated a probe into Cruise. Additionally, a Cruise taxi inaccurately predicted the movement of a San Francisco bus, resulting in a collision. These incidents have raised questions about the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles.

Despite the challenges faced by Cruise, the company maintains that its autonomous vehicles have demonstrated a significantly lower collision rate compared to human drivers. According to Cruise’s own data, their driverless miles had 54% fewer collisions overall and 73% fewer collisions with a meaningful risk of injury in a comparable driving environment.

These statistics suggest that autonomous vehicles, when functioning as intended, can contribute to safer roads. Cruise’s claims align with the broader industry narrative that autonomous driving technology has the potential to revolutionize road safety and reduce the number of accidents caused by human error.

The future of autonomous driving hinges on regulatory developments. Acting NHTSA administrator Ann Carlson recently announced the administration’s plans to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking that could pave the way for the deployment of large numbers of self-driving vehicles. This regulatory path would provide clear guidelines and requirements for the widespread adoption of autonomous driving technology.

The outcome of this proposed rulemaking will have significant implications for Cruise and other autonomous driving companies. A favorable regulatory environment will facilitate the expansion of their services and promote further innovation. However, the industry must address the concerns raised by safety advocates and ensure the reliability and safety of autonomous vehicles before widespread adoption can occur.

GM’s Cruise ad challenging human drivers and promoting the potential of autonomous vehicles has sparked both controversy and debate. While safety advocates criticize the ad’s use of car crash statistics for self-promotion, Cruise argues that embracing autonomous driving technology is necessary to improve road safety. The company’s progress, along with its safety record, indicates the potential benefits of autonomous vehicles. However, challenges and concerns remain, necessitating further development and regulatory oversight. The future of autonomous driving depends on striking a balance between innovation and safety to build a transportation system that prioritizes efficiency and protects human lives.

First reported by AdAge.

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