Recently a friend posted this article on her Facebook news feed:
Charter School buys self-driving bus
My comment wondered how a bus would handle a fight on the bus or other emergency, say if the bus caught on fire.
A response demanded to know if I had read the article.
I did not, but I stand by my remarks. I don’t always need to read an article to know a stupid idea when I run across it.
First, this is a charter school planning to transport children on self-driving buses. They are the sector of education that keeps its eye on the bottom line. They already are saving by not having to pay actual drivers who must come with qualifications. A safety assistant will ride on the bus with the children, but how long before the charter school decides even that minimum-wage paying job can be eliminated. I don’t have the confidence that a charter school, focused on its bottom line, will resist seeing an extra $20 to 30,000 dollars for the investors by going with no adult on the bus.
Maybe it will be parent volunteers. Many charters require parents to work a minimum amount of volunteer hours if their child is to attend the school. But even volunteers, as representatives of the school, represent a liability if they make bad decisions and children are hurt.
If the bus is self-driving, will the safety assistant have any control over the vehicle? Can they make it stop? Open the doors to evacuate the children?
Second, we have reports that the technology is not perfected. One ride-sharing service, experimenting with self-driving vehicles, experienced a pedestrian fatality as the car failed to stop. This article I did read and it reported that the human attendant could not react in time when the technology failed to make the car stop.
In another incident, a distracted driver of a Tesla failed to take control of his vehicle when the autopilot system failed to recognize a semi-truck’s side and went under it. This is not an isolated incident.
Still ready to entrust children to a bus that drives itself even if an adult is onboard?
Third, Amazon, UPS, USPS, and FedEx are experimenting with self-driving vehicles to deliver packages. The technology is not ready. Their trucks still arrive with a human driver who puts our packages on our porches.
If delivery services are not willing to entrust packages that have products inside them to self-driving technology, why would anyone think it’s a good idea to do so with children?