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How Safe Are Driverless Cars?

| Feb 25, 2016 | Motor Vehicle Accident

A recent report by McKinsey & Company suggests that driverless cars could reduce traffic fatalities by 90 percent. This equates to 300,000 lives being saved every decade, along with healthcare cost savings of $190 billion every year. However, while interest in driverless cars continues to grow, questions are being asked over how safe this technology is. Companies such as Google, Uber, General Motors and Lyft are working to meet consumer demand for on-demand ride services by developing fleets of autonomous vehicles. But before these vehicles can be put into general use by the public, there needs to be assurance of their safety.

One of the main questions facing this technology is whether a compromise could be met even if it is impossible to completely eliminate safety risks. While it is an accepted notion that humans are prone to making mistakes, machines are expected to be infallible. Attempts to reach this level of perfection could prove to be unattainable and costly, thus stifling innovation.

Human Error to Blame?

Multiple studies have revealed that driverless vehicles that are being tested in real-life traffic situations do have higher crash rates in comparison to regular vehicles on the road. But what is not readily known is that while these cars may be involved in more accidents, the self-driving cars are not at fault. Human error has been involved with these accidents. Crash records for three Google driverless cars showed that human error was to blame in all of the crashes these cars were involved in. During these accidents, the cars were not being driven in self-driving mode.

In a study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, accident records from driverless vehicle programs were compared to those of regular vehicles. The study found that autonomous vehicles (AVs) were involved in more crashes per million miles driven, 9.1 crashes than traditional vehicles with 4.1 crashes per million. However, none of the AVs caused the accidents in which they were involved. Researcher Brandon Schoettle, the lead author of this study, concluded that while the AVs have an increased crash rate that should not imply that they are less safe than traditional vehicles.

Autonomous Vehicle Accidents Less Severe

With AV accidents, there was a higher rate of injuries, 0.36 injuries per cash versus 0.25 for driver-controlled vehicles. The difference was; however, that most AV crashes occurred at low speeds and the injuries suffered by passengers were less severe. Most of those accidents were low-speed rear-end crashes. Crashes involving driver-controlled vehicles occurred at higher speeds and were more violent, such as head-on or T-bone crashes.

Injuries from these accidents were more severe in addition to causing fatalities. Severe injuries or deaths from car accidents result in high medical costs and settlement lawsuits that require the assistance of car accident attorneys in Wheeling.

Drivers in driverless vehicles that were involved in accidents reported minor injuries with none being any more serious than whiplash. While the recorded AV accidents did not involve hitting bicyclists or pedestrians, vehicles driven by humans are often involved in these types of accidents. Damages to driverless vehicles were less severe than conventional vehicles.

Are Driverless Vehicles More Accident Prone?

The programming of driverless vehicles takes away human emotions and errors out of driving. It would make sense that this would help reduce accidents. However, it appears that there is concern from consumer watch groups, such as Consumer Watchdog that this could make these vehicles more accident-prone. There is additional concern over whether it is really safe to allow vehicles that are controlled by computers on the roads.

Google has stressed that safety is the main focus of its self-driving technology. Their cars are outfitted with multiple sensors and software that helps its vehicles avoid accidents. Google’s point of view is that with these features, their driverless cars pose a lesser threat on the road than human drivers who can be easily distracted when they are driving.

The computers installed in the Google cars are capable of navigating through traffic based on what they perceive to be happening in front or along the sides of the vehicle. But this technology cannot prevent the car from being rear-ended from other cars while stopped in traffic or at stop signs.

The other issues that are being found with driverless cars on the road is how human drivers are reacting to them. Many drivers in California where most of the self-driving cars are being tested attempt to avoid being stuck behind these cars. Drivers prefer to be in front of these cars on the road instead of behind them where the car may suddenly stop, thus causing the driver to rear-end the driverless vehicle. It is expected that more research will be needed before the public will be comfortable with sharing the road with driverless vehicles.