It seems that since autonomous vehicle technology began testing, we find ourselves reverting back to the question at hand every time there is an accident. To me, it seems like they are the new kid a school. While they have been able to find a few friends, they’re still the new kid on the block. They are going to have to persevere and push through the criticism.
Recently, Uber and Tesla were once again the topics of conversation. Uber has been testing autonomous vehicles for their pick up service. Unfortunately, after three million miles, one of their vehicles was involved in a fatal accident with a pedestrian. Shortly after, a Tesla, in autopilot mode, was involved in a fatal crash with a highway barrier. The crash led to a fiery explosion on the side of a California highway.
The Aftermath of the Accident
The aftermath of this accident on the industry has been interesting, to say the least. While Uber, Toyota, and Nivida have hit the pause button on their testing, Waymo (an AV tech company) has doubled down. The company’s CEO, John Krafcik, is on the record telling Bloomberg that the Uber crash inspired him. He also stated that the crash has led to the industry banding together.
Tesla’s response to the crash was not to halt production, but to continue on; as they have after previous autopilot accidents. They responded to the news stating that their vehicles are equipped with numerous safety features and warnings. The automaker released images of the dashboard warnings. The warnings clearly tell the driver to remain attentive and keep both hands on the steering wheel. The warning system even goes as far as turning off the autopilot feature if the driver’s hands are not on the wheel, forcing them to take control of the vehicle. Tesla blames the “over-reliance” of the driver on autopilot to be the biggest factor in accidents with their vehicles.
There is Strength in Numbers
A few days after the accidents, a number of companies invested in AV technology have come together to form the Autonomous Vehicle Coalition. The coalition includes companies like Cisco, Econolite, Esri, Kuharchik Construction, and others. The purpose of the coalition is to illustrate the safety of autonomous vehicles and show how they are an overall better way to get around. The big guns, Waymo, Tesla, and Uber, are yet to join the coalition.
What do the Number Say?
So, what do the numbers say about autonomous vehicles? Well, they say that self-driving cars are actually significantly safer than human-driven cars. According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, about 33,000 people are killed by about 5.7 million highway accidents each year. This data in combination with information that has been gathered by Uber and Waymo (combined eight million + miles of testing) validates the statement that autonomous vehicles will significantly lower the crash rate.
Believe it or not, that is not all of the supporting evidence we have gathered. According to the U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, autopilot vehicles have been shown to crash at a rate that’s 40% less than human-driven vehicles. One conclusion we can draw from this is that as autonomous vehicles begin to become the norm, however long that takes, the road will continue to become a safer place.
In order for the autonomous vehicle industry to take the next step, they must be able to convince the public that this technology should be embraced, not feared. Their best option is to find ways that show off the safety of the vehicles.