The question may not be “are self-driving cars safe” but whether other drivers are ready to be on the road with self-driving cars? A 2015 study from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found that self-driving test cars had car accident rates five times higher than conventional cars but that they were not at fault in any of them! In almost every case, other drivers crashed into the self-driving cars – causing the accidents – which may indicate that self-driving cars lack the necessary ability to react to the mistakes of other drivers or that the self-driving cars were traveling at unexpectedly slow speeds. No accidents were reported from self-driving cars having a computer malfunction.
Limitations of the study
Researchers acknowledge the limitations of the study but insist that real conclusions can still be drawn from the results. The study involved a relatively small sample of 50 autonomous test cars in California with only 11 car crashes within the study period. The researchers also note that the 50 self-driving cars traveled only 1.2 million miles within the study period compared to the cumulative trillions of miles traveled by conventional cars within the same time frame.
Self-driving vehicle car accident rate
When researchers adjusted car crash figures to account for the fact that many car accidents go unreported, they still found that self-driving cars had a crash rate twice as high as conventional vehicles. The study also found a personal injury rate four times the rate for accidents between conventional vehicles, though the injuries were all considered minor.
The concrete conclusions reached through the study are that self-driving vehicles may almost never be at fault for car accidents and the severity of injuries may be lower but they are unequivocally involved in more car accidents than cars driven by humans.
Who is liable for car accidents involving a self-driving car?
As more self-driving cars are introduced onto roadways there will be more interactions between them and conventional cars. This inevitably means more car accidents between human drivers and self-driving vehicles. So who is liable when the self-driving car is at-fault? Insurance experts believe that we will see an insurance and liability shift from drivers to car manufacturers. The reason is because it will be argued/assumed that a car accident caused by a self-driving car was the result of a built-in flaw in the vehicle’s technology. In fact, some car manufacturers have already stated that they will accept full liability if their cars are ever involved in a car accident. Expect the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to continue to weigh in on this topic as self-driving cars become more common.
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