Taking Part in The Conversation: Autonomous Vehicle Safety

Steering wheel

For many, the draw of an autonomous vehicle comes from the fact that they are reportedly safer and said to reduce the number of injuries and deaths due to car collisions. But are these promises of better safety actually backed up by data? In his Conversation article “Are Autonomous Cars Really Safer Than Human Drivers?” Peter Hancock, a Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Central Florida, questions the fairness of these automobile comparisons.

One issue with comparing collision rates between autonomous cars and human-driven cars is the differences in driving conditions. Statistics for human-driven cars are compiled for all sorts of driving situations, from pouring rain to snowy slopes. In contrast, much of the data on autonomous vehicles comes from the Western states of the U.S. where the weather is often sunny and the biggest challenge drivers face is staying in their own lane. These extra variables may affect the data, making self-driving cars seem safer than they really are.

It is also important to consider other, more human factors when assessing the safety of autonomous vehicles. Hancock writes, “Indeed, deciding what action to take in an emergency is difficult for humans, but drivers have sacrificed themselves for the greater good of others. An automated system’s limited understanding of the world means it will almost never evaluate a situation the same way a human would.” Things like self-sacrifice, compassion, and human understanding cannot really be programmed into an automated system, and to Hancock, these shortcomings mean that there are situations in which not having a human being behind the wheel would be detrimental.

To read more about potential flaws in the current assessment of human-driven cars and driverless cars, check out the full article at https://theconversation.com/are-autonomous-cars-really-safer-than-human-drivers-90202.