How Safe are Driverless Vehicles, Really?

By Peter DePaolis

By now you have heard about driverless vehicles, which are currently being tested by major car   manufacturers and even Google. The buzz around these driverless vehicles is that they would supposedly cause fewer accidents on the roadway since driver error or negligence causes 94 percent of accidents.

While the numbers sound great, how safe is it to let a computer take over driving on the nation’s streets? Would they really reduce accidents? While the proponents of the technology say you would have fewer accidents and injuries, the reality is that driverless vehicles are not flawless.

What Drivers in Washington, D.C. Should Consider About Driverless Vehicles

There may be fewer accidents, but that does not mean driverless vehicles will end collisions altogether. One reason lawmakers are hesitant about allowing these vehicles on the road permanently is that they do not have a definition of what is safe enough. Would ten percent fewer accidents mean they are safe enough to be on the roads? Perhaps they need 30 percent fewer crashes?

Numerous Accidents Tied to Self-Driving Vehicles

Self-driving vehicles have had their fair share of accidents. While some of these incidents occur due to other drivers, that proves that if a driverless car and driver-driven vehicle share the road, there are still accident risks. Here are just some of the recent incidents involving driverless cars:

  • Within its first hour of service, a self-driving bus in Las Vegas was in an accident after a truck backed into it.
  • A driver using Tesla’s autopilot feature died in an accident involving his Tesla vehicle and a semi-truck because the autopilot system failed to recognize the semi-truck’s presence on the road.
  • An Uber self-driving vehicle flipped onto its side in an accident in Arizona.

Driverless Vehicles Are Not There to Replace Drivers

One important realization is that while a vehicle can drive itself, it is not meant to replace the driver altogether. A driver must still pay attention and be there to take over in the event the driverless vehicle makes an error.

In the Tesla event, the NTSB determined that the driver relied too much on the driverless system. This is what caused his accident, and that the manufacturer was not at fault for the incident.

Most Drivers Are Not Happy about the Driverless Vehicles

Most drivers today are not excited about driverless vehicles. In fact, an AAA study found that 54 percent of drivers felt less safe sharing the road with cars driven by robots.

Striking Balance Between Legislature and Safety

Until lawmakers can define what is safe enough, driverless vehicles will hit numerous roadblocks before they can be released in mass scale. Lawmakers do not want to be responsible if this technology does more harm than good; therefore, they cannot agree on a set number of what would be considered “safe enough” for vehicles to be sold to the consumer market.

Currently, the Transportation Department and Congress are working closely to find a balance between safety and the law. They want automakers to be able to make these vehicles without stringent regulations while keeping drivers safe.

One argument is that driverless vehicles need to be released sooner rather than later so that automakers can work out any issues that will only be seen after these vehicles have been used for some time.

In fact, two models were released and discussed in a Washington Post article showing how delaying the development and release could cost lives – not save them.

In one model released, driverless vehicles would be manufactured and released as early as 2020, and at that time they are estimated to be ten percent safer than driver-driven cars.  Within a 15-year span, the technology would slowly improve as manufacturers learn from errors – and by 2070 they estimate that the driverless cars would have saved 1.1 million lives.

In the other model, they assess what would happen if they wait to release these cars until 2040. If released in 2040, focusing on improvements if needed, these driverless vehicles would only save 580,000 estimated lives by 2070.

Another argument for driverless vehicles comes from the raw statistics – showing the most prominent causes of motor vehicle accidents and fatalities.

The most significant cause of deaths is drunken driving – something driverless vehicles would instantly remove. Another is speeding and distracted driving, which would equally end with driverless cars handling transportation.

Good in Theory, but Drivers Are Still out There

While it is true the primary cause of motor vehicle fatalities is human error or negligence, not everyone would own a driverless vehicle right away – even if they were released by 2020. Therefore, driverless cars would still share the roadway with driver-driven cars, and those drivers could cause accidents with the driverless vehicle regardless.

Injured by a Reckless Driver? You Have Rights

For now, vehicles are driven by humans, and it is human to err. While that might be natural, it does not excuse driver recklessness, negligence, or outright dangerous maneuvers on the roads. When these actions lead to catastrophic accidents, it is often the victim that suffers; not the at-fault party.

You can hold reckless drivers responsible for their behavior by seeking compensation from them and their insurance company.

Compensation helps cover your losses associated with the accident. After all, you did not cause the accident so why would you pay for the damages out of your pocket?

Speak with an Injury Attorney Today

If a negligent driver injured you or a loved one, you have the right to seek compensation from them. Speak with an injury attorney from Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP today.

Schedule your free consultation by calling one of our three East Coast locations or by scheduling an appointment online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.