Things have not gone well for the first autonomous shuttle bus in Las Vegas. The vehicle was reportedly involved in an accident during its first hour of operation. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, D'oh. The accident was minor and all the passengers on the free shuttle bus operated by AAA and Keolis were unharmed during the fender bender.
While the accident wasn't caused by the autonomous bus, this handily highlights the potential downside of an autonomous vehicle. A semi-truck backed into the autonomous shuttle reportedly grazing the fender. The issue here is that while the Navya shuttle bus was able to come to a complete stop using its autonomous tech, it was unable to simply back up a few feet and get out of the reversing semi's way.
Most human drivers have been in a situation where a person begins to back up without looking behind them. All you need to do is honk your horn and back up a few feet to avoid a wreck in many circumstances. The exact circumstances of the accident are unknown; we have no idea if the autonomous shuttle was simply unable to back up to avoid the accident or if there was another vehicle too close to the shuttle bus to allow it to reverse out of harm's way.
One of the passengers on the shuttle during the accident said, "The shuttle just stayed still and we were like, ‘oh my gosh, it’s gonna hit us, it’s gonna hit us!’ and then.. it hit us! And the shuttle didn’t have the ability to move back, either. Like, the shuttle just stayed still."
The big question this accident raises is if the designers simply didn’t add the ability for the autonomous taxi to avoid this sort of accident. If a vehicle leaves its own lane and careens towards an autonomous shuttle such as this, will it simply stop and wait for the inevitable crash, or take evasive maneuvers as a human would?
A City of Las Vegas representative said in a statement that the shuttle "did what it was supposed to do, in that its sensors registered the truck and the shuttle stopped to avoid the accident." The representative also stated, "Had the truck had the same sensing equipment that the shuttle has the accident would have been avoided."