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How Safe Are Self-Driving Cars, Really?

How Safe Are Self-Driving Cars, Really?

| Mar 27, 2018

In mid-March 2018, a woman in Tempe, Arizona was struck by a self-driving vehicle owned by ride-sharing company Uber. The victim was crossing the street at the intersection of Mill Avenue and Curry Road around 10 p.m. when the incident occurred. According to police reports, the car did have a human driver behind the wheel, but the vehicle was operating in autonomous mode.

This is the first known fatal pedestrian accident with an autonomous car. However, it’s not the first fatal car accident involving a self-driving vehicle. In 2016, the driver of an autonomous Tesla was killed in a wreck when he failed to heed warnings the car was giving him to keep his hands on the wheel.

Following the most recent incident, Uber suspended its autonomous vehicle program. No charges have been filed against either the driver or the company itself. Regardless, this incident raises an important question: How safe are self-driving cars, really?

Pushing the Autonomous Revolution Forward

Truly autonomous vehicles have been a part of science fiction stories practically since the first car rolled off the line. Now that they are a reality, it’s important to question their safety. Manufacturers like Tesla, which is perhaps the biggest name in the self-driving car industry, tout the intricate and advanced technology in their vehicles. But many wonder if cameras and computer systems can react to road conditions, obstacles and other issues like humans can.

Before Tesla created their self-driving technology, Google broke ground on developing autonomous cars in 2009. Since that time, most (if not all) accidents involving self-driving vehicles were attributed to human error. As such, it was suggested that, if every car on the road were autonomous, car accidents would be all but nonexistent. Lawmakers across the nation embraced the autonomous revolution, passing laws to pave the way for the new technology.

In November 2017, the autonomous revolution took another step forward when minivans manufactured by Waymo took to the streets without a driver at all. Though the program was a success, experts still aren’t sure about what “safe enough” is for self-driving cars. Some believe it would take hundreds of millions, if not billions, of miles in real-world traffic and conditions to determine how safe autonomous vehicles really are.

Of course, manufacturers say that’s an outlandish figure, and that autonomous vehicles are obviously safer than human drivers. That message may change, though, now that a self-driving car itself was responsible for a pedestrian death.

What Does the Public Think About Self-Driving Technology?

Though self-driving vehicles have been dreamed about for decades, studies suggest our society simply isn’t ready for this technology. In fact, nearly 60 percent of surveyed drivers say they wouldn’t buy an autonomous vehicle, even if cost wasn’t a factor.

Even if an autonomous car’s safety record was provenly better than a human-operated vehicle, only 55 percent of consumers say they would trust the self-driving car. Finally, 56 percent of American adults say they wouldn’t even want to ride in a driverless car if they had the chance.

Semi-Autonomous Features Already in Your Car

Though it’s clear many people don’t like the idea of self-driving cars, some of the technology is already in vehicles today. For example, adaptive cruise control adjusts the speed for you, and self-parking technology takes the headache out of parallel parking. But as more safety features are integrated into cars, are they actually becoming less safe?

According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, the answer could be “yes.” Essentially, as we become more comfortable and complacent with safety technology, we pay attention to the road less, and are therefore more prone to accidents. There must be a “sweet spot” between having advanced safety features and giving drivers enough stimuli to keep them engaged in driving.

With this in mind, it may be time for car manufacturers to determine what features should actually be in their vehicles, and what should be reserved for truly autonomous cars. For instance, adaptive cruise control can be greatly beneficial for a self-driving car, but can lull a human driver into dangerous complacency, since they don’t have to adjust their own speed according to traffic conditions and could cause serious or even fatal auto accidents.

Get Legal Help from a Charleston Car Accident Attorney

Though autonomous vehicles may still be a ways off in the future, the fact is that car wrecks caused by human drivers happen every day. If you’ve been injured in a car accident in Charleston, you may be entitled to compensation. Call George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers today at (888) 612-7001 or contact us online for a free case evaluation.

Categories: Auto Accidents
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