Driverless Cars Safer Than Human Drivers

In What Ways Are Driverless Cars Safer Than Human Drivers?

The development of driverless car technology has been rapidly accelerating in recent years. As this technology continues to advance, many experts believe that self-driving vehicles will be much safer than human operated cars. But what are the specific ways in which autonomous vehicles are likely to reduce accidents and improve safety on our roads?

Key Takeaways:

  • Driverless cars eliminate human errors like distraction, impaired driving, and aggressive driving that cause many accidents. Their cameras, sensors and AI software stay focused at all times.
  • Self-driving vehicles have much faster reaction times about 50-75x quicker than humans enabling them to better avoid collisions.
  • Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications give autonomous cars more time to respond to hazards other cars and smart infrastructure encounter.
  • Superior vision systems like LIDAR and radar allow driverless cars to reliably detect obstacles and pedestrians in all conditions – night, rain, fog etc. unlike human limitations.
  • Rigorous testing across billions of simulation test miles, closed track testing courses, and public road supervised driving ensures self-driving systems operate safely before consumer deployment.

Overview of Driverless Car Technology

Before examining the safety benefits of self-driving cars, it helps to understand what makes them work. Driverless vehicles use a combination of sensors, cameras, radar, and artificial intelligence (AI) to navigate roads and make driving decisions without human input.

Self Driving Car Technology

Some of the key components include:

  • Light detection and ranging (LiDAR): LiDAR systems map the car’s surroundings in 3D, allowing the vehicle to “see” pedestrians, objects, and terrain.
  • Cameras: Multiple cameras give autonomous cars 360-degree vision to detect traffic lights, road signs, and nearby vehicles.
  • Radar: Radar senses the speed and direction of other cars on the road. It can see farther ahead than cameras.
  • AI Software: Self-driving cars use machine learning algorithms to process sensor data and plan routes, adjust speed, switch lanes, park, and perform all other driving functions. The AI is essentially the “brain” making decisions.

By combining all these advanced systems, driverless vehicles can replicate and even improve upon human driving abilities. But exactly how will self-driving lead to safer roads?

Fewer Human Errors

One of the biggest reasons autonomous technology is expected to save lives is by eliminating mistakes made by human drivers. Some examples include:

Distraction and Negligence

People text, apply makeup, eat, argue with passengers, or become distracted by technology inside their vehicle. Robots, however, never lose focus. Self-driving systems will maintain full attention on driving at all times. This alone could prevent countless accidents.

Impaired Driving

Nearly one-third of all traffic deaths in the U.S. involve drunk drivers. Autonomous cars remove intoxicated motorists from the driver’s seat, making this type of deadly collision far less likely.

Aggressive Driving

Humans have moods and emotions that sometimes cause them to drive recklessly by speeding, tailgating, improperly passing other cars, running red lights, failing to yield, and breaking other rules. Self-driving technology obeys all traffic laws and is never aggressive.

By taking people out of the decision making role, autonomous systems avoid errors in judgment, distractions, impairment, and emotional reactions that contribute to millions of crashes globally each year.

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Improved Reaction Time

Self-driving technology has reaction times that beat humans. Let’s compare:

On average, driverless vehicles can react 50-75 times faster than people in critical driving situations. At 60 mph, cameras, radar and LiDAR act within a fraction of a second while the typical person still has a “delayed response.” Quicker reactions translate to shorter stopping distances and more accidents averted.

Connectivity With Traffic Signals and Cars

Another way future driverless cars are likely to enhance safety is through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communication systems.

V2V technology lets self-driving cars “talk” to each other by exchanging speed, location, and braking data over a wireless network. If a car suddenly stops ahead, your robot driver will know immediately even beyond visual range. By being alerted to threats and traffic ahead, autonomous vehicles gain substantial extra reaction time.

Similarly, V2I connections allow traffic lights, construction zones, and other road infrastructure to transmit safety alerts directly to your car. Imagine signals warning your ride about dense fog, a dangerous intersection ahead, or a road closure so it can reroute automatically.

Thanks to these innovations that link vehicles together and with their environment, the promise of collision free roads seems truly on the horizon.

Superior Vision and Sensing

Compared to people, self-driving vehicles have superior sensing abilities for staying out of harm’s way. Let’s examine some key differences:

Low Light & Poor Visibility: Humans struggle to see road markings, objects, and pedestrians in low light nighttime conditions, heavy rain, fog, or snowstorms. Yet LiDAR, radar, thermal sensors, and other driverless car vision technology perform reliably in all conditions and darkness. No visibility issues means fewer accidents.

View Obstructions: Large vehicle blind spots, distracted drivers checking mirrors, and children darting into traffic unexpectedly lead to collisions. Self-driving rides utilize LiDAR’s 360 degree field of view plus multiple cameras and sensors that virtually eliminate blind spots. What a driver can’t see, an autonomous vehicle most likely will.

In the future, mobility experts theorize almost all crashes caused by restricted driver vision could disappear thanks to robot vehicles and their super human sensory capabilities.

Added Benefits

Beyond the core safety benefits outlined already, researchers have identified some supplemental perks linked to driverless cars:

  • Smoother braking & acceleration: Humans brake erratically depending on reflexes and emotions. Robotic systems apply smooth deceleration and acceleration to avoid throwing passengers off balance. This may prevent some injuries.
  • Fuel efficiency: AI powered driving optimizes speed and routes for improved gas mileage compared to humans. Less fuel burned means lower toxic emissions.
  • Improved traffic flow: During congested commutes, autonomous vehicles can communicate and skillfully adjust spacing between cars to keep traffic dense but smoothly flowing. This also leads to less stressed and safer human drivers.
  • Enhanced mobility: Self-driving ride shares offer independence to people unable to operate traditional vehicles due to age, disabilities, affordability issues and other limitations. More mobility options intrinsically enhance safety for those who need it most.

While the core safety promises of driverless vehicles center on crash reduction and saved lives, the above auxiliary benefits reveal more layers of protection linked to this upcoming revolution in transportation.

What Experts Are Saying

Now that we’ve surveyed the multitude of built-in safety advantages with autonomous vehicles, let’s examine what industry specialists predict about this technology’s future positive impact.

“Self-driving vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives lost annually in road crashes. We must ensure safety is a priority for these vehicles.”Erik Coelingh, Senior Technical Leader, Volvo Cars

“Connected, autonomous vehicles that talk to each other with vehicle-to-vehicle communication are the ultimate way to avoid crashes. Today’s technology enables vehicles to share operating data with one another so every car will soon know what every other car is doing.”Randall Guensler, Director of Georgia Tech’s Transportation Research Center

“In the future, you may be more likely to be hit by lightning than hit by another car on the road. Almost all car accidents stem from human mistakes and misjudgments. Take humans out of the driving equation and deaths from collisions could fall dramatically in the coming decades.”Tim Dawkins, Automated Driving Expert, SAE International

These experts echo the conclusions of countless studies forecasting massive reductions in automotive fatalities thanks to self-driving advances. Driver error contributes to a staggering 94% percent of U.S. crashes today. By removing fallible human judgment from behind the wheel, transportation stands ready for a new era of safety.

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Testing the Safety of Self-Driving Systems

An important question around autonomous vehicles is how exactly are these advanced systems tested and proven to handle all possible driving scenarios safely? Engineers utilize three primary methods:

Simulation Testing: Before self-driving cars hit real streets, the software “brain” behind them gets trained in detailed simulated environments designed to emulate intricate traffic patterns, strange pedestrian behaviors, and unlikely edge case road events. Think ultra realistic video game meets robot driver’s ed. Successfully navigating trillions of virtual test miles builds reliability.

Controlled Track Testing: Self-driving trucks and passenger vehicles next get assessed on closed courses containing real streets, tunnels, simulated buildings, and arranged obstacle patterns. Controlled conditions allow observing autonomous systems making driving decisions interacting with stimuli they will see daily. Track testing builds confidence in safety while limiting risks.

Public Road Testing: Final validation comes from supervised test drives on public routes across tens of thousands of miles. Google’s Waymo self-driving unit has logged over 20 million miles on public roads in 25 U.S. cities. Monitoring how vehicles perform in chaotic open environments is critical to confirming readiness for consumer application.

Rigorous testing across simulated, closed track, and public domains ensures autonomous vehicles operate safely at super human levels before regular people ever ride inside.

Autonomous Driving Safety Regulation

Alongside technology testing, policymakers are also building the regulatory framework to ensure self-driving vehicle safety and reliability:

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation has adapted Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for autonomous features with more revisions likely as capabilities advance.
  • Industry groups like SAE International have created detailed safety design and performance guidance for engineering teams creating automated driving technology.
  • State legislatures in 29 U.S. states have enacted autonomous vehicle bills regulating testing processes and minimum safety standards. More states continue introducing consumer protection policies.
  • Global regulators led by the United Nations and including the European Union, China, Japan, and Korea have formed councils outlining codified standards for testing and validating autonomous vehicle safety before public deployment.

With so much government and industry focus on safety, car companies and tech innovators have ample incentives and strict protocols in place to deliver reliable driverless transportation that lives up to its promises.

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Benefits Beyond Cars – Autonomous Trucking & Public Transit

While private self-driving cars garner the most headlines, autonomous technology in commercial trucks, buses, taxis and other people moving vehicles will also slash accidents and improve commuter safety in coming years.

Autonomous Trucking: Human driver fatigue and error contributes to thousands of deadly big rig crashes annually. Self-driving trucks able to rest while moving could nearly eliminate these losses. Spinoff technologies keeping attentive drivers safer may arrive sooner while large scale robotic semi trailer adoption navigates longer regulatory timelines.

Robotic Public Transit: From autonomous mini buses and robo-taxis to artificially intelligent trains and subways, crash proof transit could reinvent mobility for millions globally. Future generations may view manual control of buses and trains as needlessly dangerous compared to more reliable automated operation.

Conclusion: Safer Roads Ahead

As autonomous driving technology matures in coming years, driverless vehicles are positioned to revolutionize road safety in ways exceeding our imagination. Self-driving cars have faster reaction times, superior sensing, increased connectivity, smooth driving skill, and immunity from human errors of distraction, impairment, and aggression. Experts predict over 90% drops in deadly accidents will result as AI piloted vehicles dominate future transit.

While today’s prototypes still have limitations, rapid innovations promise affordable autonomous rides soon accessible to everyday commuters. Financial savings from sharply reduced insurance rates and hospital bills could follow the coming plunge in crash frequency and severity.

Indeed, the driverless vehicle revolution may produce safety gains not witnessed since concept of routine seat belt use arose decades ago. The potentially vast number of lives saved globally in years ahead is perhaps the most compelling reason to accelerate the arrival of this long awaited technology. So while formidable challenges remain before autonomous cars arrive en masse, life saving safety improvements stand right within reach on the road ahead.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the biggest weaknesses in human driving ability?

The biggest human weaknesses leading to car crashes include distraction, slow reaction times, vision limitations in darkness and poor weather, and impaired judgment under influence of alcohol or emotions like anger or drowsiness.

How many lives could self-driving cars save yearly?

Various estimates predict autonomous technology can save from 20,000 up to 1 million lives worldwide every year once fully adopted. In the U.S., over 35,000 automotive fatalities occur annually.

Will self-driving features make human driven cars safer too?

Yes. As autonomous safety systems like automatic braking, lane centering, and backup cameras filter into conventional cars, they cut collision frequency and serve an assistive role that improves human driver focus and abilities.

Can bad weather impact driverless vehicle safety?

State of the art sensors like LiDAR work reliably in rain, snow, darkness, glare, and obscuring conditions. Future vehicles may even share real time hazard data with each other to enhance poor visibility warnings. Advantages over humans will persist.

How soon before fully self-driving cars arrive?

Most experts estimate affordable, fully autonomous rides hailing services will launch between 2025 and 2030 depending on regulatory approvals. Models with partial self-driving aids already exist today. The technology is advancing faster than predicted even by optimistic forecasts.

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