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SMC Bulletin - Self-driving car fatal accident

Self-driving car fatal accident
A pedestrian in the US was killed this week in an accident involving a self-driving car, which is believed to be the first of this kind of accident.

Further details have been released about the accident, which occurred about 10pm local time on Sunday in Tempe, Arizona. Elaine Herzberg died in hospital following the accident.

The Uber test vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time and newly-released footage from the vehicle [viewer discretion advised] shows the operator was not looking at the road in the moments before the collision. Uber put its self-driving car programme on hold after the accident.

But while the accident has raised concerns about the technology, New Zealand experts caution that tightening regulation on the industry could result in missed opportunities to reduce the road toll.

University of Auckland senior lecturer Dr Paul Ralph said it was "critical to keep these things in perspective".

"People are using this incident to dismiss driverless cars as unsafe. Human drivers have killed hundreds of thousands of people. A driverless car has killed one. Moving to autonomous vehicles as quickly as possible is still the best way to reduce automotive collisions and their enormous cost in money, time and human life."

Unitec's Professor Hossein Sarrafzadeh agreed that the "rate of accidents to the number of hours such cars have been tested, despite this sad incident, still makes them far less risky than human-driven cars".

Michael Cameron, who is the author on an upcoming Law Foundation report on driverless vehicles in New Zealand, said "any regulation that slows down the adoption of driverless technology will likely cost many more lives than it saves".

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the accident.

Quoted: Radio NZ
"It's kind of one of those scenarios out of the Ridley Scott Alien films, where the egg hatches inside the caterpillar, and the little wasp feeds on the caterpillar’s insides.

"In most cases it feeds selectively, to keep the host alive for as long as possible to give it a nice cosy corpse to live in."

University of Auckland PhD student Tom Saunders
on parasitoid wasps.

The SMC is hiring
The Science Media Centre is looking for a media advisor to join our dynamic Wellington-based team of four.
We are looking for an experienced journalist or science communicator to join our team, working to improve and expand coverage of science-related issues across all types of media in New Zealand.
We work in a fast-paced environment, immersed in a wide range of science research and responding quickly to breaking news stories – be they emerging technologies, natural disasters or medical research discoveries. You’ll need to be able to quickly get your head around a topic and proactively identify angles and contacts that will be useful for New Zealand media.
You’ll ideally bring good networks of contacts in the New Zealand media and research sectors so you can hit the ground running. Firsthand experience of broadcast and digital media is a plus. To succeed in the role, you’ll need to be a self-starter who enjoys working collaboratively and who is able to adapt to best support the needs of journalists and scientists we work with.
Excellent writing skills are essential. Managing online content is an important part of the role. A full job description is available here. Applications close Wednesday, 4 April.

Policy news & developments

Mouse eradication successful: The Million Dollar Mouse initiative which aimed to eradicate mice from Antipodes Island has been declared a success.

Conservation board nominations: Conservaton Minister Eugenie Sage has re-opened the nomination process for conservation boards to ensure the boards reflect their diverse communities. Nominations close 14 August.

Cook Strait cattle controls: Minister of Agriculture and Biosecurity Damien O'Connor has announced a programme to track cattle movements across the Cook Strait to help control spread of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Accidental dolphin capture:The Ministry for Primary Industries is looking into the accidental capture and subsequent deaths of five Hector's dolphins caught in a commercial set net off Banks Peninsula last month.

Herbicide approved: The EPA has approved a new herbicide to control problematic weeds in wheat crops.

Myrtle rust spread: MPI has confirmed myrtle rust has been detected in Manawatū for the first time.

EQC Act changes: The Minister Responsible for the Earthquake Commission Megan Woods has announced changes to the EQC scheme.

Water dragon at large: A second Australian water dragon has been spotted in Papaitonga Scenic Reserve, following the removal of one animal in May 2017.

Tahakē expand range: Takahē have returned to Kahurangi National park for the first time in over 100 years, with 18 birds being released near the Heaphy Track.

Kaimanawa muster: Up to 300 Kaimanawa wild horses may need to be removed this April during the two-yearly muster.

Fire-fighting foams in NZ airports
As a formal investigation continues into the use of certain fire-fighting foams in New Zealand, airports are being identified as still having stocks of the foams, use of which has been restricted since 2006.

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