Gone are the days of stick shifts, cranking your window down, and no power steering in cars. The past has passed and the future is now, complete with cup holders. It’s looking like these days; more and more things are becoming automated. Less time focused on the mundanity of yesteryear and more time to focus on what’s important, browsing through our phones.
One of the latest innovations of mankind is the self-driving car. These vehicles rely on a combination of complex sensors and thinking AI (Artiﬁcial Intelligence) to prevent accidents and take the passenger from point A to point B. Anyone can see the benefits of a car like this, but do they really prevent accidents attributed to human failure? And do they bring more problems into play?
The Current Self-Driving Car
Many cars today implement new sensors and computational power to automatically brake in emergencies or to help keep the vehicle on the road. Features like automatic emergency braking seem to help prevent accidents, if not slow the vehicle down to lessen impacts.
But I would not consider cars with these features to be truly self-driving. Many would only grant this title to brands like the Tesla Model S, which boasts features like automatic lane changing, parking assists, and the ability to summon a car that’s been parked. While they still need someone at the wheel, these cars have a ton weighing on their intelligence to avoid accidents (and/or damaging your vehicle) and drive safely through their lifetime of use.
Still, you might think these cars are not self-driving. Just vehicles that offer a very automated driving experience. This is not the case.
Now there are companies producing entirely self-driving cars. With no one needed at the wheel, these cars are being used by companies like Waymo or Cruise as unique transportation services akin to Uber. These cars are currently operating in specific, small locations, but it seems like a looking glass into the future of transportation.
Safety of Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars have much work put into them to ensure safety. Police statistics show that final driver error results in 9 out of 10 accidents, so a computer should be able to execute the complicated actions that a human being cannot make in maybe a panicked state.
A computer, however, could be compromised to error. We see it on the news now and then that somebody is killed due to a decision made by the vehicle. These, however, are very few and caused by the unpredictability of human beings.
A famous story of an incident like this is the death of Elaine Herzberg, who died while crossing the street. This was caused by an Uber being unable to identify when someone was on a road other than on the crosswalk.
Uber has since updated its system to include jaywalkers but stories like these make people very wary to trust automated vehicles like this. About 40 percent of people do not feel safe in self-driving cars for valid concerns. Some people prefer to trust themselves or another human being over a machine.
It is important to note that a large number of self-driving car-related accidents are contributed to the people that operate them. Only 1 percent of accidents are directly caused by the AI itself. Remember Elaine Herzberg? The vehicle did have an operator who could have braked if he noticed her.
Then there are some accidents that are unavoidable regardless if the best driver in the world had the wheel. Internal problems with the engine or breaks cannot be predicted by a human or machine. If the car is damaged it might be safer to sell, than to keep driving it.
Putting It All Together
Driverless cars seem to be the way of the future. With technologies that are starting to outperform humans, we are living in the future. 55 percent percent of businesses believe they would have fleets of fully automated vehicles in the next 2 decades because self-driving cars are getting better at a fast rate.
If you wouldn’t feel safe letting a machine drive for you, maybe you should stick to a regular one instead. Maybe feeling that any mistake while driving that could happen would be yours instead of the machine makes you feel comfier in a vehicle.
Self-driving cars are getting safer every year and although there is still not much data to decide how much they are prone to; they still have a ton of hardware and software designed to successfully evade accidents. They are safe enough to be on the road but, like all vehicles, are prone to accidents.