Are self-driving cars safer than cars driven by humans?

Q:

Are self-driving cars safer than cars driven by humans?

A:

After an accident in 2018 involving an Uber self-driving car where a pedestrian was killed in Tempe, Arizona, there has been some scrutiny over whether autonomous vehicles are safe.

The data seems to suggest that autonomous cars may be safer than cars driven by humans. Most car accidents are caused by human error. Autonomous cars can’t get distracted, get drunk, run red lights or text while driving, so there is already potential for increased safety over human drivers.

The Uber incident also appears to be partly caused by human error, as the person supervising the car was apparently distracted.

Autonomous cars, even with the potential to cause fewer accidents than with human drivers, are still a new technology. Most of the testing so far has been in the western United States, where weather conditions are relatively dry. There are still a lot of questions over how self-driving cars would perform under adverse conditions.

Self-driving cars follow set rules, while human drivers can be unpredictable. This can make self-driving cars safer or more dangerous, depending on the situation. A human driver might actually decide it’s better to crash the car if it means averting a bigger disaster.

One big problem is that self-driving cars will share the road for some time. This gives the potential for collisions between self-driving and human-driven cars when one does something the other doesn’t expect. This is what happened in 2016, when a truck collided with a Tesla car in “autopilot” mode, killing the car’s driver.

It’s also still an open question whether autonomous vehicles will ultimately succeed as a technology. Some people just like driving their cars themselves. If autonomous vehicles don’t take off, then we will face the same problems with human-driven cars.

Still, the excitement around self-driven cars proves that people recognize that human drivers have limitations and autonomous cars might improve safety on the road.

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Written by David Delony
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David Delony is a Bay Area expatriate living in Ashland, Oregon, where he combines his love of words and technology in his career as a freelance writer. He's covered everything from TV commercials to video games. David holds a B.A. in communication from California Sate University, East Bay.
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