Here's why people are siding with a driverless car company after its vehicle hit a pedestrian

A driverless ride-hailing car operated by Chinese tech giant Baidu hit a pedestrian in Wuhan, China, causing a stir on social media. Many are siding with the carmaker, as the pedestrian was reportedly crossing against the light.

Baidu reported that the car started moving when the traffic light turned green and made minor contact with the pedestrian. The individual was taken to a hospital, where an examination found no obvious external injuries.

This incident highlights the challenges autonomous vehicles face in complex situations. An expert quoted by the Chinese financial news outlet Yicai noted that the technology might struggle with unpredictable behaviors, such as pedestrians or other vehicles breaking traffic laws.

Public reaction on social media

Images posted online show a person sitting on the street in front of the driverless car, which had its rooftop sensors visible. 

Comments on social media largely supported Baidu, with many pointing out that the pedestrian was at fault for breaking the law. The English-language Shanghai Daily newspaper echoed these sentiments on its social media platform.

What is Baidu, and what is its Apollo Go service? 

Beijing-based Baidu is a frontrunner in developing autonomous driving technology in China. The company’s largest "robotaxi" operation, with a fleet of 300 cars, is in Wuhan, a major city in central China.

Apollo Go, Baidu's ride-hailing service, also operates in limited parts of three other Chinese cities: Beijing, Shenzhen, and Chongqing. In May, Baidu recently launched the sixth generation of its driverless taxi, reducing the unit cost by more than half to under $30,000.

 An Apollo Robotaxi runs at Shougang Park as Baidu launches China's first driverless taxi service in the city on May 2, 2021 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by He Luqi/ via Getty Images)

Impact on the driverless car industry in the U.S.

The incident in China underscores the concern around driverless vehicles as the U.S. is on the verge of a significant increase in the deployment of autonomous vehicles. Companies like Aurora Innovation plan to roll out thousands of self-driving trucks on American highways within the next few years, the Associated Press reported in April. 

These trucks, capable of running nearly around the clock, promise to accelerate delivery times and lower costs by maintaining consistent speeds and not needing breaks.

However, the rollout faces significant public skepticism. A AAA poll found that 66% of American drivers fear riding in an autonomous vehicle. Safety advocates are concerned about the lack of federal regulations specifically covering autonomous vehicles, leaving companies to decide when their vehicles are safe enough for the roads.

Despite these concerns, companies argue that autonomous vehicles could be safer than human-driven ones. For example, Aurora's trucks have autonomously hauled freight over 1 million miles on public highways, with only a few minor incidents, all caused by human error in other vehicles. The vehicles' sensors can detect obstacles far beyond the range of human vision, enhancing their safety profile.

As the technology advances, the debate over the safety and regulation of autonomous vehicles will likely intensify, influencing both public opinion and policy in the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.