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NYC will allow robotaxis

Ashanti Charon

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a new plan that will allow the testing of self-driving cars in the city. However, New York and the technology of self-driving cars are far from ready to be introduced. Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, Ydanis Rodriguez, referred to New York City as “America’s most challenging street networks.”

New York City has a complicated and hectic road system. New York City drivers have to deal with traffic, car accidents, complicated parking, road rage, pedestrians, one-way streets, public transport and double parking. This results in a significant amount of car accidents involving human-driven cars. According to the NYPD, there were 6,766 citywide car accidents in February 2024.

California is a primary example that self-driving vehicles are not ready to be integrated into the city. In the beginning of 2023, San Francisco launched the Waymo vehicles. In one event,  the Waymo vehicle failed to react to emergency personnel, who ended up having to emergency park the car.

Later that year, a series of incidents with the General Motors-owned self-driving car, Cruise, operating in San Francisco forced the company to cut its fleet by 50%. One of the cars got into an accident with a fire truck, another drove into wet concrete and nearly a dozen cars froze in traffic due to connectivity issues.

The most recent incident in November 2023 became the last straw for Cruise. A human-driven car critically injured a pedestrian who got pushed under one of the Cruise cars. At first, the car stopped, but then it proceeded to move, dragging the pedestrian for 20 feet and causing them significant damage. As a result, California revoked permits for Cruise driverless vehicles.

The New York City transportation commissioner insisted that the permitting process for self-driving cars will “ensure safe, responsible testing.” The permit will require a trained safety driver present at the wheel of each car. However, this is hardly a guarantee of success.

Self-driving car companies often fail to report accidents or failures within their system. When the Cruise car incident occurred, California regulators accused the company of omitting the video of the dragging from the footage they gave to investigators. Additionally, the requirement to track and report the need to disengage the self-driving mode discouraged drivers from intervening.

San Francisco is a smaller scale city than New York City, it has fewer pedestrians and less traffic, but it still faces significant roadblocks when it comes to self-driving cars. New York City has over 8 million people compared to less than a million people living in San Francisco.

Most of the self–driving cars that have been tested were implemented on the West Coast with much nicer weather. It is currently unclear whether the self-driving cars will be able to survive the New York City winter.

Self-driving car technology needs to be tested further and trained before it can be implemented in a fast-paced city. Currently, New York City’s hectic road system is not prepared for an AI-controlled vehicle that is not always operating at 100%.

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