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Are Self-Driving Cars Really Safer Than Human Drivers?

Every day it seems we are racing ever closer to a future filled with autonomous vehicles. One of the biggest selling points being used to garner support for self-driving cars is that they are believed to be safer than human drivers, and as a result, they could reduce the number of auto collisions! Can this really be true? 

California Fun Fact!

Self-Driving cars are coming to legislation ready or not! In California, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles said Monday that it was eliminating a requirement for autonomous vehicles to have a person in the driver’s seat to take over in the event of an emergency. The new rule goes into effect on April 2, 2018 - Source NY Times 

Let’s take a closer look at just how safe driverless cars really are. 

Differences in Data Collection

Statistics show that over 90% of auto collisions in the United States are a result of driver error. Does that mean by eliminating the human element, we can instantly reduce the number of auto collisions that occur? 

That is undoubtedly what self-driving car manufacturers would have us believe, but there may be a flaw in that type of logic. It is difficult to compare the collision rates between human drivers and self-driving cars, because of the differences in data collected. 

Most data relating to self-driving cars is collected in the Western states. The weather is usually better, resulting in more favorable driving conditions. Self-driving cars also tend to be tested on highways where all the traffic is traveling in the same direction, and the most important requirements are staying in lane and maintaining a safe distance. These are things autonomous vehicles are particularly good at! While it could be said that human drivers should also be able to handle this, don’t forget "human error" is always a factor.

In comparison, when we look at statistics regarding human drivers and auto collisions, the data comes from a much more comprehensive variety of situations. Not only could they involve inclement weather conditions, but there will also be data from people driving on dirt roads, winding paths and/or other hazardous road conditions. 

Auto Collisions Involving Autonomous Vehicles

Self-driving cars have been involved in their fair share of auto collisions in recent years. Google has even updated their self-driving car website (Waymo 360° Experience: A Fully Self-Driving Journey) with accident reports in a bid to be more transparent. However, there is one important thing to note – all of these accidents involve a human driver rear-ending the autonomous vehicle! 

There is a strong case to argue that if both cars were self-driving, there would likely have been no accident. Once again human error seems to be a huge factor in auto collisions. Some would argue that these accidents occur because autonomous vehicles are programmed to be 100% adherent to the law and will brake at all the times they are supposed to – human drivers are just not used to this level of precision driving resulting in the rear-end collisions. However, isn’t that more of a reflection on human error when driving than on the safety of self-driving vehicles? 

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