Self-driving cars are still developing — but worth it, Peduto tells city leaders from across the country

“The only way we make progress as a society is taking risks,” Pittsburgh’s mayor said.

MJ Slaby / The Incline
MJ Slaby

Anytime there’s an incident with an autonomous vehicle, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto knows there will be people who say, “You’ve got to shut it down.”

Fatal car accidents happen regularly, but if a self-driving car has a fender bender, he said people will say it has to be “100 percent safe, we don’t want it here.”

Peduto and TechCrunch Senior Editor Jon Shieber took the stage at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Friday morning, with Uber Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy David Plouffe joining via Skype.

The trio talked autonomous cars to a room full of city leaders at the National League of Cities conference, which started Wednesday and ends Saturday.

In September, Uber launched a pilot program allowing Pittsburghers to ride in self-driving cars. Peduto said the city along with the feds and the state are working on safeguards for autonomous vehicles.

“The only way we make progress as a society is taking risks,” Peduto said.

He acknowledged that those in government can be adverse to risk, but entrepreneurs aren’t. That’s why partnerships like the one between Pittsburgh and Uber work, Peduto and Plouffe said.

Shieber asked the panel about reporting incidents to the public, and Plouffe said it’s something the company is working on internally.

He pointed out that in one case in Pittsburgh — when a self-driving car went the wrong way on one-way Atwood Street in Oakland — the vehicle was not in autonomous mode.

Plouffe stressed that, in general, human error is the biggest reason for crashes.

In a way, he said the autonomous cars “will be super human.” But, he said it’s “not going to be something where you flip a switch, it’s going to be gradual”

He and Peduto said Uber works with existing transportation systems. That means more independence for people who are low-income and elderly, Peduto said.

Plouffe said people will be able to call an Uber to their home and then take it to the transit center and after they use public transit, an Uber can take them to the doctor’s office or the store.

It breaks down that dependance of having a vehicle that isn’t in use most of the time, Peduto said

The increase in accessibility will be instantaneous, he said.