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Could self-driving cars reduce the number of car accidents?

While they may have once been the stuff of science fiction, self-driving cars are becoming a reality in Miami and nationwide. One of the hopes of these autonomous vehicles is that they will reduce the number of car accidents. However, are self-driving cars really safer than traditional human-driven vehicles?

According to current statistics, over 90 percent of auto accidents in our nation are due to driver error. One question to ask, though, is does this mean that autonomous vehicles will be less likely to crash than human-driven vehicles? Research needs to be done that would establish the rate of how often vehicles driven by humans and self-driving cars do not crash.

In addition, the current statistics on motor vehicle crashes involving traditional vehicles are compiled using many different types of situations a motorist may face, including poor weather conditions and road conditions. However, autonomous vehicles have mainly been tested on one-directional, multi-lane freeways in the Western U.S. when weather is good.

Also, human drivers are subject to mental and physical limitations. They may be drowsy, they may be emotional or may drive drunk. It is true that none of these conditions would apply to an autonomous vehicle. However, it cannot yet be said whether an autonomous vehicle can react in an ambiguous situation the same way a human driver would. Also, human drivers can think ahead to potential situations they may experience while driving. Self-driving cars do not have this foresight, and mainly operate on a momentary basis.

These, and other issues, will have to be addressed through further testing of autonomous vehicles. Any comparison between self-driving cars and human-driven cars should be done mindfully, especially because human-driven cars aren't going away any time soon. This means that as autonomous vehicles become more prevalent, issues regarding liability will emerge should an autonomous vehicle collide with a human-driven vehicle. Still, it may be worthwhile to track the testing of autonomous vehicles, to determine whether they truly do save lives.

Source: govtech.com, "Are Autonomous Cars Really Safer Than Human Drivers?," Peter Hancock, Feb. 2, 2018

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