An onboard display monitor in a self-driving car. Picture: REUTERS/YUYA SHINO
An onboard display monitor in a self-driving car. Picture: REUTERS/YUYA SHINO

A series of high-profile accidents involving self-driving cars are slowing the mad rush into the autonomous vehicles business, according to a report issued on Wednesday.

The accidents, some of them fatal, have ignited a debate about how to regulate the safety of self-driving vehicles and have tempered the public’s expectations, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in the report. They have also exposed the downside of rushing to market, prompting some in the industry to slow down, said Andrew Grant, a London-based analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Companies including Uber, Tesla and Alphabet’s Google have been touting self-driving cars as the next revolution in transportation. Pressure was mounting to make the technology road-worthy when one of Uber’s cars killed a pedestrian in Arizona,US in March.

The company halted its autonomous-vehicle test programme. Toyota and Aptiv’s Nutonomy then announced they were temporarily suspending public road testing in the US.

Also in March, a driver of a Tesla Model X died in a crash in California that occurred while Autopilot was engaged.

"It gives them breathing room," Grant said. "Now, they can stop telling investors a growth story. They don’t have to be as aggressive."

While there have been no significant changes to federal autonomous-vehicle policies in the US in 2018, Arizona ordered Uber to stop operating them on the state’s roads in March.

Regulators are scrutinising digital ride-hailing services, too, according to the BNEF report, citing concerns over public infrastructure and their effect on labour markets.

The potential consequences of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, such as less use of public transportation and more traffic, have prompted several states to propose or pass new taxes. San Francisco and Seattle are also encouraging companies to disclose data on driver earnings and work hours.

"Most of the taxes imposed on ride-hailing services to date have been too small to change consumer behaviour," Grant said in an e-mail. But as cities grapple with the adverse effects on both traffic and public-transit use, "more taxation could be in the pipeline".

Bloomberg

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