How safe are self-driving cars?

How safe are self-driving cars
Photo: Dan Gold, Unsplash

For years, we were waiting for that moment when self-driving cars would hit the streets. Now, they are finally here and having a car that drives autonomously is no more just a product of our imagination. It is obvious that self-driving technology really is the next stage of the car industry, but the question is – can a human driver really be replaced with a machine?

It seems that after seeing this new generation of autonomous vehicles on the road, we tend to ask ourselves – how safe are they? After recent events, such as an Arizona accident, where a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian, and Tesla accident in California, where the driver was killed, the world started asking more and more questions about the safety behind this advanced technology.

While some cities will start introducing self-driving vehicles more sooner than others, people all around the globe have different opinions and views on whether a car should drive itself autonomously. Some claim that there wasn’t enough safety testing and that a machine cannot be trusted, while others believe that autonomous vehicles are the next step for the humanity.

Are self-driving cars safer than human drivers?

Back in 2004, Google introduced their self-driving project with an idea to help ordinary people get around easier by using an autonomous vehicle. Their goal was to introduce a self-driving system which would allow people with disabilities and elderly generations to drive around the town.

Google was among the first companies to actually test the vehicle on the road and established the Waymo – a self-driving technology company. Waymo’s goal was to partner with car manufacturers and slowly implement the self-driving features.


Waymo’s fully self-driving car. Video: Waymo, YouTube

Self-driving cars were pushed as safer options, expecting to reduce car accidents, injuries and death. Waymo claimed that its vehicles participated in around 24 crushes, and only 1 was the fault of their vehicle, where the car bumped a bus while moving 2 miles per hour.

Companies all around the world are investing big bucks in the autonomous vehicle industry. Uber invested around $300 million to their self-driving car fleet, promising that within the next 5 years it will hit the streets. Similarly, Ford announced that their self-driving vehicles will be driven by 2021, while Google’s Waymo stays on the top of the game, with 5 million self-driven miles.

Can a machine drive better than a human?

As machines are programmed, their biggest advantage when it comes to safe driving is that they will actually obey the rules. During the programming process, autonomous cars are “taught” to respect speed limit and rules on the road. In addition, your self-driving car won’t be easily distracted and definitely won’t even try to text and drive.

According to the researchers, an automated vehicle is hypothetically more likely to detect and prevent any potential danger that is not visible to human eye. This is due to the integrated sensors and should especially be important in low light, night time and bad weather conditions.

Being a programmed vehicle, self-driving cars consist of highly developed and complexed software and technology, including LIDAR – light-detecting and ranging sensor. LIDAR uses lasers – millions of them, to draw a 3D picture of the real environment around the car, helping it to better understand its surroundings.

In addition to LIDAR, autonomous vehicles are packed with radars sensors and HD cameras, which are actually able to read and understand signs and signals on the road. Most importantly, these vehicles feature software programs which allow them to make real-time decisions, all while considering the traffic conditions, humans, and objects.

Real-life testing on the public streets is the most important factor when it comes to software development, as the car actually needs to learn and adapt to the real driving environment. So, the more they are cruising down our roads, the smarter they will be. Big companies are also developing fake cities, in order to test their vehicles in the real-world look-a-like environment, before they actually hit the streets.

One thing is sure – tech innovations only made our lives easier. From everyday life to medicine, science, and space, machines are getting smarter and more helpful at the same time. Although self-driving vehicles still require testing and adjusting to real-life roads, they do have a good shot at decreasing accidents and injuries, especially the ones caused by human error. Now, if they will stick around and change our traffic forever, only time will tell.