To know whether self-driving cars are safer than the traditional kind, you’d have to know how many miles they traveled before incurring this first fatality. And the answer is “ fewer than 100 million” — a lot fewer. Waymo, the industry leader, recently reported logging its 4 millionth mile of road travel, with much of that in Western states that offer unusually favorable driving conditions. Uber just reached 2 million miles with its autonomous program. Other companies are working on fully autonomous systems, but adding them all together couldn’t get us anywhere close to 100 million. (The numbers go up if you add Tesla’s autopilot, but that system has more limited capabilities, and fatality statistics don’t necessarily get any clearer — or more favorable — if you do.)
One fatality at these numbers of road-miles driven does not suggest, to put it mildly, a safety improvement over humans. It’s more like dramatic step backward, or if you like, a high-speed reverse.