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Just How Safe is Driverless Car Technology?

July 9, 2018

A vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and able to navigate without human conduction is the definition of an autonomous vehicle. Autonomous vehicles have become a concrete reality and much of the push towards self-driving vehicles has been underwritten by the hope that they will save lives by getting involved in fewer crashes, injuries and deaths than human driver cars, but just how safe are these computers to take over the art of driving?

According to a recent survey of UK consumers’ attitudes to self-driving vehicles, the proportion of people who would feel safest travelling in a human-controlled vehicle, rather than a driverless one is 61% (Intelligent Car Leasing). This may not come as a surprise considering that driverless vehicles involving Uber and Telsa were recently involved in causing the death of two pedestrians, which has raised the debate on safety to levels that threaten to significantly delay and hinder the adoption of the new technology.

Safety is key to the conversation in terms of self-driving vehicles. Some argue that self-driving vehicles could be safer than humans, for example, they will obey traffic laws such as texting and drink driving, whereas others claim that the safety record for self-driving cars isn’t proven and that it’s unclear as to whether or not enough testing miles have been driven in real-life conditions as opposed to experiments.

Having been put through several road tests and experts having declared that the self-driving technology has the potential to be safer than human drivers, is this really enough? Shouldn’t this technology be constantly under scrutiny? Perhaps those behind the wheel should not be too easily lulled into trusting technology, which effectively allows us to kick back and relax while being taken for a ride more than they should.

Although cruise control works well when a car is directly following another car, it often fails to detect stationary objects, making it possible for drivers to rely on automation in situations beyond its capabilities. Perhaps as humans we should not trust or rely on autonomous technology too much given that real-life situations, as well as controlled experiments, often show that drivers who place too much trust in automation end up causing an accident.

Despite road tests and expert evidence, the question that needs to be asked is whether self-driving vehicles pose more of a risk to pedestrians, cyclists and other cars than cars piloted by humans and can such automation really make driving safer?

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