On Monday, the nascent self-driving vehicle sector reached an unfortunate milestone when, for the first time, a self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This also means robot drivers are becoming more like their human predecessors—who kill thousands of pedestrians every year.
And that number has risen dramatically in the past several years. In 2016, cars hit and killed nearly 6,000 pedestrians. That’s a serious spike from the historic low—below 4,000—in 2009.
The Great Recession explains some of the fluctuation. When fewer people have jobs, they spend less time out and about, and their exposure to potential crashes drops. When times are good, the opposite happens. “Economic changes do give us a good idea of the general direction of traffic deaths,” says Richard Retting, the general manager of Sam Schwartz, a New York City–based traffic engineering firm. But