Would you entrust your life to a self-driving car?
This question came up again after another autonomous vehicle figured in a car crash recently. An Uber self-driving vehicle flipped to its side after hitting a car in Arizona, prompting the car tech company to suspend its self-driving testing program. The incident refueled worries about the overall safety of autonomous vehicles.
In May last year, Tesla's Autopilot car crashed into a semi-truck. A Google self-driving also hit a bus. And with the recent Uber accident, the hot-button issue of road safety vis-à-vis autonomous technology has been pressed once more.
Self-Driving Car Accident History
Uber's recent road mishap is another tally to the accident history of self-driving cars. While the list isn't that long given the relatively young age of the technology, it is still a serious concern.
The first fatal accident happened in May 2016 with Tesla's Model S Autopilot feature. The occupant was killed when his Tesla Model S hit a tractor trailer while it was self-driving along a highway in Florida. According to Tesla, the accident was both machine and human error, as both the car software and the human occupant didn't notice the white side of the trailer against the brightly lit sky, causing the car to fail to apply the brakes when the trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla. The company claims this is the first autopilot accident after more than 208 million kilometers (nearly 130 million miles) driven by Autopilot customers.
Another tech company figured in an autonomous car road mishap in 2016. Google's driverless car hit a bus after it avoided a sandbag. This is the first time that the accident was entirely the software's fault, although Google's autonomous car has figured in 14 accidents already. But Google claims that 13 of these were due to human error.
Uber's recent accident was not the self-driving software's fault, but rather because of human error, according to investigators. But given the negative issues surrounding Uber, from accusations of misogyny to a legal battle against Google, the accident negatively fueled debates regarding the safety of autonomous vehicles.
Accidents Are Mostly Because Of Human Error
There are many factors contributing to car accidents. According to statistics, driving under the influence or DUI is one of the biggest causes of accidents, accounting to about 31 percent of traffic-related mishaps in the United States. In 2014, 9,967 people were killed because of drunk driving, and more than 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Legal and illegal drug use accounted for 16 percent of traffic accidents.
Another main culprit in traffic-related fatalities is driving while distracted. According to reports, distractions such as using mobile devices, reading, using the GPS, and passenger interaction contributed to about 1,600 crashes. Other causes of accidents attributed to human behavior are car racing, speeding, road rage, and drowsy driving.
Technology To The Rescue
Even with the negative publicity on autonomous driving, technology can help reduce human errors. In fact, it has many potential advantages that outweigh the negatives.
A computer program doesn't get drunk, sleepy, distracted, excited, or angry. Thus the computer can focus solely on driving — that is, "keep its eyes on the road" — using technological features such as distance detection, GPS positioning, speed calculation, traffic updates, motion and object detection, and speedy reaction time. Other benefits are more socioeconomic, such as parking assistance, a reduction in labor costs, fuel conservation, and the ability to move the elderly and people with disabilities around.
The self-driving car technology isn't perfect — yet. But as automotive technology moves at exponential speeds like most technology, it will not be long before autonomous cars reclaim its place on the road. The human factor will not disappear for sure. But together, man and machine will ultimately — and hopefully — make the roads a safe place again.