Are Self-Driving Cars Safe? The Crash Risks of Automated Driving Systems

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Technology is changing rapidly and that is certainly evident in the transportation industry. Just a few years ago we were amazed at things like ridesharing services. Now, companies are pouring resources into self-driving cars. Not only that, but we have many vehicle models on the roadway not that already have automated driving features.

But is all of this safe?

Today, we want to talk about this new technology and what it could mean for you.

Are self-driving cars on the roadways?

The answer to this question is – yes and no.

Self-driving cars are currently being tested in California by major companies like Waymo (a Google project) and GM’s Cruise division. In fact, a recent Forbes article says that there have been many car accidents involving these vehicles across the state. As more and more companies get into the self-driving industry, we can count on the crash numbers rising.

However, these vehicles are not in regular use across the US or California. You are not likely to see many vehicles zip by without anyone in the driver’s seat anytime soon. However, automated driving systems are a different story.

Automated cars are everywhere

There have been plenty of stories recently about cars with automated driving systems causing problems. Automated systems are different from self-driving systems. In an automated driving situation, the driver remains in the driver’s seat and must be ready to take over driving responsibilities any time a hazardous situation occurs.

What could go wrong?

  • Last year, police successfully managed to stop an automated vehicle whose driver was asleep behind the wheel (he was drunk).
  • There have been several wrongful death lawsuits filed against car companies whose automated systems were engaged at the time of a crash.

Automated systems pose a challenge when it comes to assigning liability in a crash. Many of these systems have partially automated steering and speed control. Some just brake when a driver does not see a hazard in time or is caught off-guard. After all, computers can react quicker than we can. However, some systems take over nearly all of the human driving tasks.

Even though companies say that the driver must be ready to take over driving responsibilities at all times, is that really how drivers are using this technology?

“These systems don’t make the vehicle self-driving by any means,” said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. “They require an attentive driver who’s able to take over the controls at a moment’s notice.”

Vehicle systems such as forward-collision warnings, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot warning have all greatly improved roadway safety. However, no studies have shown that automated partial driving systems decrease the risk of an accident.

What kind of injuries do we see in self-driving car accidents?

Injuries from self-driving and automated driving vehicles can be just as serious as injuries in a regular vehicle crash. We have seen the following injuries as a result of automated driving system failures:

As technology increases, we know that these incidents will continue to increase as well. The hope is that technology figures out a way to reduce roadway injuries and fatalities, not increase an already dangerous situation.