How Safe Are Self-Driving Cars, Really?
Understandably, the very idea of a self-driving car sends shivers down most people’s spines. Google’s Waymo program, which includes a fleet of cars that are entirely automated, is asking drivers to relinquish control of the wheel and trust a computer to do the driving. Is there any way that can really be safe?
Early Research is in Favor of Self Driving Cars
As a matter of fact, in all of the real-world tests Waymo has conducted, the self-driving cars have proven safer than any other demographic of drivers on the road. None of the cars that have been used on real city streets have been involved in any car accidents more serious than a fender bender. There has been no loss of life and no injury involving a self-driving car in any test market after logging more than two million miles.
The Self Driver’s Worst Offense: Following the Law
Those fender benders have happened at a pretty good rate, though. The number of accidents Waymo has been involved in does exceed, on average, the number of accidents logged by experienced drivers over the same number of miles. The interesting thing is that most of those accidents seem to involve cases where the self-driving car strictly followed the letter of the law. Drivers have become so used to everyone driving unsafely that they don’t expect a car to, say, stop when a pedestrian approaches a crosswalk. Google has logged every accident, and all of them are fender benders that occurred when someone ran into a self-driving car that slowed or stopped when it was supposed to.
Should You Trust a Computer, Though?
The most common concern about self-driving cars is that they rely solely on computer technology. Google has not directly answered questions about potential hackers or computer glitches that could cause the cars to behave erratically. The tech company points out that the cars can be switched from automatic to fully manual if a driver feels concerned.
The real safety potential of self-driving cars is likely to be their ability to protect everyone on the road from car accidents involving dangerous drivers. Imagine streets that have no drunk drivers, no inexperienced teenage drivers, and no distracted drivers. If early indications are any evidence, the best way to cut down on accidents involving self-driving cars would be to get more self-driving cars on the road to follow those traffic laws.