A recent study has suggested that self-driving cars, far from being the end-all solution to the problem of vehicle collisions, may not be able to prevent the majority of collisions that take place on the road.
In an article for Car and Driver, Roberto Baldwin talks about a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and what it means for the way we think about autonomous driving. IIHS undertook the study in order to determine just how effective self-driving technology might be in preventing collisions. It's a welcome study in a world that has projected many high hopes on the advent of autonomous driving technology. Journalists and industry experts alike have claimed that, when autonomous driving becomes standard, traffic and collisions could disappear. Unfortunately, this recent study by IIHS says differently.
"The IIHS concluded that, while self-driving vehicles would be better at detecting the world around them thanks to a suite of sensors that produce a 360-degree worldview, they'll still get into crashes. That's even if all the vehicles on the road were autonomous."
The IIHS came to this conclusion, in part, by breaking down the primary causes of collisions and looking at how autonomous driving would effect those causes. They found that 6% of collisions are either unavoidable or have unknown causes. The other 94% are the result of: sensing and perception error (24%), incapacitation (10%), and those building the systems and the person operating the car (60%). Of the last group, 40% are the result of deciding errors and illegal maneuvers.
While autonomous driving may able to reduce, or even eliminate, collisions that occur because of sensing and perception errors, many of the other causes would not disappear with the advent of autonomous driving. As covered here before, autonomous vehicle does not = no driver action required. And, as the IIHS study concluded:
"The fact that deliberate decisions made by drivers can lead to crashes indicates that rider preferences might sometimes conflict with the safety priorities of autonomous vehicles."
What this means is that autonomous vehicles are not going to save us from the bad choices we make behind the wheel or from the obligations we have as drivers to educate ourselves on safe driving and implement what we've learned at all times. Autonomous driving might make driving a bit safer, but if we want to live in a collision-free future, the rest is up to us.
For more on the IIHS study and its implications, check out the original article by Car and Driver.