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Driverless cars have long been a fixture of futuristic science-fiction novels and movies, but the future is now in the United States and around the world as car manufacturers race to embrace this technology and improve upon the existing safety record. Every manufacturer wishes to be the first to launch an autonomous vehicle that’s safer than a human-driven car.
Most consumers don’t want to pay the added cost of a self-driving vehicle if it isn’t safe to use the included autonomous technology. But with 2,497,657 reported car accident injuries and 42,939 fatalities in 2021, the human driving record is far from ideal, could the safety record for AI-assisted driving be much worse? After all, computers don’t get distracted by cellphone notifications, and don’t drink and drive. It might be worth asking just how safe does a driverless car have to be to beat the rate of car accidents caused by human error?
Knowing the immense speed and power of today’s computer technology, it’s easy to believe that a computer system could more accurately and safely drive a car than a human, with all of the flaws and faults that come with the human brain, but interestingly, as of yet, that isn’t the case. Though the future seems bright for driverless technology, it will be hard-pressed to beat the current human safety record. While at first thought, a safety rating of 99% seems acceptable, that actually means one crash out of every 100 car accident scenarios—in today’s high-traffic volume on most roadways, that would be unacceptably dangerous and result in many accidents and fatalities. Despite the high-sounding national statistics for car accidents, humans can successfully avoid a car accident 99.999819% of the time. In order to be safer than a human driver, a driverless car would require the ability to avoid 99.999999% of accidents. As of yet, it isn’t clear that any existing autonomous driving technology can meet that standard since the reporting from manufacturer tests only include the total crash numbers and not the number of miles driven the data requires to compare the outcome to human driving statistics.
Research statistics revealed that over 40% of people wouldn’t feel safe in a self-driving vehicle. While the Tesla currently features self-driving technology, the manufacturer clearly warns operators to remain awake and alert at the wheel at all times. There have been many highly reported horrific crashes resulting from drivers who ignored that warning. The same research shows that in many circumstances, auto-driving technology is safer than having a human being behind the wheel. Self-driving technology eliminates many common human errors like distracted driving resulting in rear-ending accidents or a collision with a pedestrian. It seems that self-driving technology practically eliminates collisions of this type, but the accidents that occur are more likely to be catastrophic accidents at high speeds. Unlike the human brain, a computer can’t make judgment calls that come naturally to humans. To date, computers aren’t capable of abstract thought, meaning anything it’s not programmed to recognize as a hazard, it won’t recognize. Two examples include an accident caused by an unusually shaped wedge divider for merging on a freeway that a Tesla’s system didn’t recognize as a hazard, resulting in a crash. Another Tesla in Florida ran directly into the side of tractor trailer truck while its driver was using the autopilot feature. Experts believe the glare of the Florida sun on the white trailer rendered it invisible to the Tesla’s sensors, while human eyes would have noticed and reacted.
While driverless cars are almost certainly the future of ground transportation in our country, it may take some time to work out enough flaws in an AI mind to beat the capability of an alert human driver behind the wheel, and even more time before the majority of consumers would feel safe enough to sit back and let a car drive itself. Still, autonomous vehicles do exist, and there is still a legal gray area surrounding fault. If you were injured in a car accident of any kind, consulting with a Chicago car accident lawyer is crucial.
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