Driverless Cars May Drastically Reduce Car AccidentsDecember 11, 2017
According to a new study by the RAND Corporation, driverless cars do not need to be perfect to be better than humans when it comes to avoiding car accidents. RAND researchers suggest that waiting to put autonomous cars on the road until they are as close to perfect as possible could cost hundreds of thousands of lives. When human error is taken out of the equation, problems like drunk driving, drowsy driving, and reckless driving are no longer an issue. Even though driverless cars have their own set of potential problems (including software glitches and being attacked by hackers), their potential to save lives is significant.
The Cost of Perfection
In 2016, over 37,000 people were fatally injured in car accidents in the United States. Each of these wrecks involved human drivers. Yet, studies show that people tend to have little tolerance for mistakes made by machines, especially autonomous cars. Many believe that autonomous vehicles should not be made available until they are nearly perfect.
However, many in the industry, including Mark Rosekind, former Chief Regulator at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, believe that waiting for perfection is not ideal. If we hold off on releasing autonomous vehicles until they are perfect, said Rosekind, we run the risk of losing even more lives.
RAND researchers Nidhi Kalra and David Groves recognize that autonomous vehicles are not perfect, but they are improving. They point out that the machine learning algorithms that control how the vehicles perform rely heavily on being able to experience and react to different situations and changing road conditions. However, because so few autonomous cars have been released, they are unable to accumulate miles on public roads.
Quantifying the Potential Lives Lost
Kalra and Groves developed a model to estimate how many lives would be saved and lost over time, which they use to compare the following two scenarios:
Scenario 1: Introduce autonomous vehicles when slightly safer than humans
If autonomous vehicles that are ten percent safer than the average human were made available to consumers in 2020, some early adopters would be interested in purchasing the vehicle, but most consumers would still be skeptical of the technology. Forty years after autonomous cars have been introduced, self-driving cars will account for 80 percent of miles traveled due to improved consumer confidence and familiarity. By 2035, when the vehicles have been nearly perfected, autonomous vehicles would be approximately 90 percent safer than human drivers. By 2070, they will have saved roughly 1.1 million lives since their introduction.
Scenario 2: Delay introduction of autonomous vehicles until they have been nearly perfected
If autonomous vehicles were rolled out in 2040, after they are considered nearly perfect, autonomous vehicles will account for 80 percent of miles traveled in the U.S., ten years sooner than in scenario one. However, by 2070, only 580,000 lives will have been saved compared to the 1.1 million lives in scenario one.
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