Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in SafetyApril 26, 2021
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 self-driving cars

We have been seeing a world full of self-driving cars in sci-fi movies for many years, but that reality has yet to be fully realized. However, car manufacturers are working on entire lines of self-driving cars that will be available soon to the average American. But are these cars really safe to drive?

Automated Vehicles for Safety

For the past few years, automobile manufacturers have been loading their cars and trucks up with safety features that lean towards autonomous behavior. For example, plenty of cars now assist with parking (you don’t have to do a thing, just sit back and relax while the car parallel parks). Some other features that are now becoming standard are lane assist, which nudges your car back into your lane if you drift. Backup assist, applies the brakes if you are backing up and a person or car gets in the way. Many vehicles now turn on lights at dark, may brake automatically if the vehicle in front of you stops, or turns on and off other resources as you need them.

So, although we aren’t yet at the self-driving car stage, our current vehicles are easing us into the comfort zone. 

What Are the Risks of Self-Driving Cars?

We have all seen plenty of robot movies where something goes wrong, and suddenly the helpful robot is a danger. Technology is fragile and things to break. Therefore, if we are relying too heavily on our car’s brain to keep us safe, we may pay for that thinking with our lives.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is concerned that if autonomous vehicles operate too much like human beings, then we will see only around a 30% reduction in vehicle crashes. All vehicle accidents are due to human error. If the AI driving the car is based on human beings, then the problem will not be solved.

In a recent report, Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research, said that “It’s likely that fully self-driving cars will eventually identify hazards better than people, but we found that this alone would not prevent the bulk of crashes.”

In an interesting study, police noted that 9 out of 10 crashes were due to human error. The IIHS theorized that only 1/3 of those would have been avoided had the driver been in a self-driving car. The IIHS noted that “To avoid the other two-thirds, they would need to be specifically programmed to prioritize safety over speed and convenience.”

Instead of building cars that think as intelligently as human beings, we need them to be even better. The IIHS outlined the areas that they identified as being causes for car crashes: 

sekf-driving vehicles

  • “Sensing and perceiving” errors included things like driver distraction, impeded visibility, and failing to recognize hazards before it was too late.

  • “Predicting” errors occurred when drivers misjudged a gap in traffic, incorrectly estimated how fast another vehicle was going, or made an incorrect assumption about what another road user was going to do.

  • “Planning and deciding” errors included driving too fast or too slow for the road conditions, driving aggressively, or leaving too little following distance from the vehicle ahead.

  • “Execution and performance” errors included inadequate or incorrect evasive maneuvers, overcompensation, and other mistakes in controlling the vehicle.

  • “Incapacitation” involved impairment due to alcohol or drug use, medical problems, or falling asleep at the wheel.’

Another issue is that when the car is in control, it requires that everything function perfectly. If a malfunction occurs, the autonomous vehicle will no longer be able to perform.

The IIHS sums it up with “Self-driving vehicles will need not only to obey traffic laws but also to adapt to road conditions and implement driving strategies that account for uncertainty about what other road users will do, such as driving more slowly than a human driver would in areas with high pedestrian traffic or in low-visibility conditions.”

The Other Danger of Self-Driving Cars

Another glaring danger is that self-driving cars use artificial intelligence (AI) and are usually connected online. This poses a particular risk of hacking and remote control, sabotage, or intercept. We have heard of examples of these types of attacks. The question then becomes, is the limited decrease in potential for car crashes worth the exposure and danger of a takeover?

Data Breach Today reports that a recent ENISA study from the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre warns of these dangers and others. 

Data Breach Today notes “The growing use of AI to automate decision-making in a diversity of sectors exposes digital systems to cyberattacks that can take advantage of the flaws and vulnerabilities of AI and ML methods. Since AI systems tend to be involved in high-stake decisions, successful cyberattacks against them can have serious impacts. AI can also act as an enabler for cybercriminals.”

Time will tell how automobile manufacturers will handle all these inherent dangers of self-driving cars, hopefully, before we are all driving one. 

​ #BBD0E0 »

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