Autonomous Vehicles still have accidents, and maybe more than humans

Published: November 3, 2015

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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There has been plenty in the press over the last months regarding how autonomous vehicles are going to change… well everything. These self-driving cars will result in less accidents we are told, while they will revolutionize the auto insurance industry by making premiums more affordable and putting the liability on the shoulders of manufacturers and not consumers.

An automotive paradise is on the horizon then?

Actually, perhaps it is better to hold off on the party poppers and confetti, and cancel the parade too. A study by a pair of researchers from the University of Michigan shows that autonomous vehicles are around twice as likely to be involved in a collision compared to a vehicle operated by a human driver. The study analyzed public records that show details of accidents involving autonomous vehicles to come up with a result that is admittedly going to be controversial.

The research showed that self-driving cars average 9.1 crashes per million vehicles miles traveled, while human drivers are responsible 1.9 crashes per million vehicle miles traveled. The team factored in the probability that many minor collisions or accidents are not reported by human drivers, but even so the study says real life drivers average 4.1 crashes over a million miles traveled.

So, is this a definitive result in favor of human drivers?

Not quite, and in fact the researchers readily admit that some of the data is statistically estimated, while of all the autonomous vehicle accidents they studied, 100 per cent of them were caused by a human, so hardly the fault of the driver-less system. Google, one of the leading autonomous vehicle developers says that its vehicles have never been involved in a collision.

The fact that the study admits that even autonomous vehicle accidents are human caused, it shows that perhaps we are not ready to have a machine drive for us. Or actually, perhaps we need it more than ever but just need to learn to keep our hands off the wheel. One of the biggest problems facing driver-less cars is that they will be sharing roads with human operated vehicles, and human error is responsible for 94 per cent of all auto accidents.

Until there is a completely automated transit system, accidents will still happen, even if the driver-less car is not at fault. Also, it is easy to imagine that there will be numerous studies between now and the advent of the autonomous vehicle (around five years from now) that are both pro and con on the subject.