Most drivers have taken a stance on autonomous vehicles—either they think they are best thing since sliced bread, and will decrease the number of car collisions caused by human error, or they are absolutely certain they do not want to give up their ability to control their vehicle. A 2015 University of Michigan study found that the question may not be so much whether the technology itself is safe, but how other drivers will respond to sharing the road with self-driving cars. While the study found self-driving cars had car accident rates five times higher than conventional vehicles, in almost every case the accident was caused by another driver crashing into the self-driving car.
What Were the Causes of the Accidents Involving Self-Driving Cars?
The study concluded that self-driving cars simply lack the ability to react to the mistakes of other drivers, or that the self-driving cars were driving inexplicably slowly, causing another driver to crash into them. None of the accidents were the result of a computer malfunction in the self-driving cars. Although there are plenty of limitations in this particular study, some solid conclusions can still be drawn. The 50 self-driving cars in the study traveled a total of 1.2 million miles during the study, while conventional cars could conceivably travel trillions of cumulative miles within the same time frame which is definitely a study limitation.
Who is Liable When a Self-Driving Car is Involved in an Accident?
The researchers next adjusted the car crash figures to account for the fact that many accidents go unreported, yet even after making this adjustment, the crash rate was still twice as high as conventional vehicles. In the end, the self-driving cars were simply involved in more accidents, even if those accidents were not their fault, and the injuries in the self-driving vehicle tended to be less severe.
What many have failed to consider is that the issue is not simply the self-driving cars on the roads, it is also the reaction to the self-driving cars by drivers in conventional cars. There is also the question of who is at fault when there is an accident involving a self-driving car. Experts in the insurance industry feel there will be a shift of liability from drivers to car manufacturers, and that the issue in car accidents which involve self-driving cars was the result of a flaw in the technology.
Further Reading: Distracted Drivers Are More Dangerous Than You Think
Are Self-Driving Cars the Way of the Future?
Despite the study detailed above, Google’s self-driving car program announced their electric automated mobility services could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as a gigaton per year, also helping to limit global temperature rises to less than 2 degrees. The Google self-driving car program is now known as Waymo, and thousands of those in the state of Arizona will be testing the Waymo program as they drive in the Phoenix area.
Logging over two million miles on U.S. streets, Waymo was at fault in only one accident, with an overall accident rate ten times lower than that of our safest drivers (between the ages of 60 and 69) and a whopping 40 times lower than new teenage drivers. Plus, you have the added advantage of almost entirely eliminating inebriated drivers. Like the above study, however, Waymo vehicles tend to get hit by other drivers, and when the total accident rate is looked at, the Waymo accident rate is higher than that of most experienced drivers.
The theory behind this is that the Waymo vehicles strictly adhere to the letter of the law, while human drivers, not accustomed to such lawful behavior, find themselves crashing into the rear-end of the Waymo cars. As of right now, about three-quarters of Americans simply do not trust the technology of self-driving cars, however remember that it took years for us to lose our fear of flying, but now it is old hat.
Related Article: Distracted Driving Accidents
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