Can Self-Driving Cars Save Lives?

The driverless future is upon us, especially with big names like Uber, Tesla, GM, and Lyft pouring billions of dollars into driverless technology. According to these companies, a driverless future will mean no traffic jams, less stress for occupants who are going to work or coming back, and a safer drive for the most part. While the promises of not getting into something more than just a fender bender are appealing so far, things are off to a deadly and bumpy start. The ongoing debate is if driverless cars will save lives by preventing or avoiding accidents, and if so, then how?

Many people in the automotive industry and even those outside of it see automated or autonomous vehicles as being dangerous. The big question is if autonomous cars can account for all the variables on the road like a seasoned driver? Furthermore, most people will find it difficult to give up control to a computer. 

Are Self Driving Cars Truly Safe?

Now that’s a hard question to answer. However, in light of a few recent accidents, many people argue that driverless cars aren’t quite ready for the mainstream. Take the following accidents, for instance: 

  • The Laguna Beach Police Department was caught off guard when a Tesla in autopilot mode crashed into them out of nowhere. 
  • A similar self-driving Tesla in Utah rammed into a truck resulting in a devastating accident. 
  • In California, a Tesla in autopilot mode played a major part in a fatal accident. 
  • In Florida, an accident in autopilot mode had Tesla owners in the state fuming. 

While it could be argued that the issue is unique to Tesla’s autopilot mode, the fact is that Tesla is at the forefront of the technology. Not to mention that there are a lot more Teslas on the road with autopilot than any other vehicle, so it makes sense that they will get into more crashes than three prototype Volvos on the company’s campus. 

Self-Driving Does Not Mean Accident Proof 

Various surveys and police reports on crashes conclude that driver error is the no. 1 reason for failure, which sets off a chain of events leading to an accident or crash in 9 out of 10 times. While drivers play a role in almost every crash, automation is often touted as being a game-changer, at least from a safety perspective. However, according to an IIHS study, driverless cars would only prevent a third of accidents. 

If the technology continues evolves, that will translate to self-driving cars that are better at identifying hazards, pedestrians, drunk drivers, and other factors that result in a crash. However, some experts at the IIHS believe that technology alone in the way of better sensors alone will not save lives. One of the ways autonomous vehicles would be programmed is to prioritize safety over convenience and speed. 

To be true, lifesavers self-driving vehicles will have to do more than obey traffic laws. The vehicles will need to learn to adapt to prevailing and changing road conditions so that the right driving strategies could be implemented. The cars will also need to compensate for what other drivers are doing, such as driving too slowly, erratically, or dealing with pedestrians who suddenly step on to the street. All of this will be in addition to being able to drive during the rain, storm, snow, sleet, etc. 

Insurance Coverage for People in Autonomous Car Accidents 

KPMG published a white paper entitled “Market of Change: Automotive Insurance in the Era of Autonomous Vehicles,” which estimated personal auto would account for 87% loss, with 13% percent for commercial auto. While these figures are from 2013, it is estimated that by 2040, personal auto will fall to as low as 58% percent, with commercial auto rising dramatically to 28% percent. Interestingly product liability will also go up by 14% percent. The figures are important as they predict that personal liability will fall, as the responsibility of handling a vehicle on the road will shift from the driver to a computer. Though the assumption here is that autonomous vehicles will be in fewer fatal collisions. 

In contrast to KPMG’s whitepaper, 32% percent of insurance companies have stated that they see no change in how the insurance industry works for the next decade. But while this may open up the base for smaller players to get in on the action by offering usage insurance for drivers who have not driven as much and even ones for autonomous vehicles. New policies may also cover fleets of autonomous vehicles working for Uber and may include collision as well as liability insurance. At the moment, these policies are few and far between and will continue to be this way until these autonomous vehicles go mainstream in sizable numbers. 

No Such Thing as “Zero Crashes” 

Vice President of autonomous vehicles standards Jack Weast, who works at Mobileye, was quoted as saying that there will never be a time when vehicle crashes are “zero” until, of course, there are no human drivers. Self-driving cars will soon have the ability to combine the laws of physics with their understanding of behavior on the road to offer a much safer experience. 

The IIHS’s stance is that being able to build autonomous vehicles that drive as well as a human driver is going to be next to impossible, at least for the foreseeable future. In some cases, these cars will need to be better than human drivers so that they can deliver on their promise of a “crash-free” future. But there are going to be many crashes until that future becomes the present. 

Saving Lives with Self Driving Cars 

Even if self-driving cars can prevent a third of accidents, that’s still many hundreds of lives saved in the United States alone. As technology improves, those hundreds can become thousands each year with the promise of additional complementary technologies that save lives. In addition to helping save lives, autonomous vehicles can also help people with mobility issues, in addition to robotic delivery and contactless movement, something which has become more important than ever before. 

The IIHS study offers valuable insight into how road crashes occur, which will help ensure that autonomous vehicles avoid those factors. The great thing about autonomous cars is that parameters can be programmed into the system, which allows it to learn from its mistakes and those of other vehicles. 

Liability in the Age of Autonomous Vehicles 

The final challenge is holding an autonomous vehicle responsible for a crash that takes lives or leads to financial damage. At present, the law isn’t mature to handle these cases. But as more vehicles get on the road, the law will catch up. However, until then, people who get into an accident with an autonomous Tesla need the help of a car accident attorney who can assist them with suing the negligent party. 

In Los Angeles, the guilty party is still the driver or the owner of the vehicle. However, it depends on when and how the accident occurs. That’s why the earlier people involved in a crash contact an attorney, the easier it is to process their liability claim or to sue the liable party for negligence or even a defective product!

If you’ve been involved in an accident with a self-driving call, The Dominguez Firm is hear to help you. We can seek the maximum compensation for your case. Call an experience accident lawyer today at (800) 818-1818.

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