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Are Driverless Cars Safer?

Statistics have showed that 90% of vehicle accidents in the United States are caused by human error. Consequently, the nation loses 30,000 lives per year and $300 billion in accident damages. In effect, driverless cars have been marketed as the solution to this problem, promising accident reduction by 90%, thereby saving 30,000 lives yearly that would otherwise get lost on the roads. Additionally, consumers and the government have been promised that autonomous vehicles will reduce vehicle crashes in the United States from second to ninth place in lethality ranking of accident types.

The pertinent question that lingers in consumers’ minds is whether these vehicles are actually safer.

They Are Actually Too Safe: This Can Be Bad

Recently, Google ran into a rather unique problem, which is potentially good and bad news to everyone. On one hand, they follow traffic rules to the letter but on the other, their religious adherence to the rules does not match up to humans. This means that when sharing the road, these evasive measures could confuse humans and cause accidents.

During testing, one car slowed down as it approached a cross-walk to allow a pedestrian cross.  Unfortunately, this car was hit from behind by a human-driven sedan. This incident indicated that driverless cars, especially Google cars are too safe. As a matter of fact, they are programmed to strictly adhere to the rules, which as seen, could cause accidents.

Since 2009, Google autonomous cars have been involved in 16 accidents, all of which, the company blames on human drivers and not their innovation.

Accidents Don’t Need Eyewitnesses

Eyewitnesses have sometimes been dismissed as unrealiable, shockingly inaccurate and untrustworthy. Eyewitness testimony relies on the accuracy of human memory, which can be distorted at times. Based on this, scientists have warned against relying on eyewitness accounts. The wrong testimony has the potential of unfairly sending someone to jail.

Fortunately, driverless vehicles such as the Google self-drive cars have been fitted with cameras that provide an annotated map of the surroundings. On average, there are four cameras, each relaying data over 60 times in one second. The data shows exactly what happened in an accident or incident, assuring motorists that they will not be unfairly charged and forced to make their insurance claims.

They Are Smoother Than Human-Driven Vehicles

Speaking at a robotics conference, Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program, presented results from Google studies that aimed to assess the safety of driverless cars. In one of the studies, the researchers observed that when humans were behind the wheel, Google cars were forced to accelerate and brake significantly more sharply than they did when they drove themselves.  In a different study, the car software was more accurate at keeping a safe distance from the vehicle ahead compared to human drivers.

Autonomous vehicles are definitely safer than human-driven vehicles. However, it should be noted that these are machines designed to operate according to stipulated rules. In order to maintain safety and prevent accidents on the roads, humans will need to learn to follow traffic rules to the letter.