As the rate of motor vehicle deaths has risen sharply in the past year, government officials and safety experts have looked at driverless car technology as the safer option. But many experts also wonder if it's too early to count on autonomous vehicles considering the lack of studies and evidence to say either way.
Can autonomous tech save lives?
Recently, President Obama said that driverless car technology could save the country tens of thousands of deaths every year, preventing "19 of every 20 crashes on the road." In addition, ride-sharing giant Uber claimed recently that autonomous vehicles have the potential to save millions of lives across the globe. Officials, and companies alike, claim that robot drivers are better than human drivers.
But the evidence it's totally clear, especially since driverless technology is still in its beginning stages. Google's self-driving car project former chief Chris Urmson said that the hardest question that Google and other vehicle makers have to answer at the moment is are driverless cars safer than human drivers? As of now, Urmson said, no one really understands realistically how good or bad humans are at driving.
Driverless vehicle accidents happen
One big problem for autonomous vehicle proponents is that the U.S. government doesn't keep a database of motor vehicle accidents, making it nearly impossible to know which vehicles are more likely to crash or compare driverless to human-driven vehicles. The only data available is from police who report accidents with injuries and property damage, but this gravely under-reports actual injuries and damages. People often keep accidents unreported because of potential insurance premium hikes.
Two fatal accidents have been reported in Tesla cars with Autopilot technology enabled - one in the United States and one in China. These accidents haven't been fully attributed to the driverless technology, but both did have it enabled at the time of the crashes. In addition, Google's driverless cars have been involved in accidents, including one which injured the driver of the SUV enough that they "voluntarily went to the hospital" for treatment.
A need for law and order in a driverless future
Although these autonomous vehicle accidents hit the news every time they happen, we still aren't able to accurately measure against available data. It's clear there needs to be a better database to accurately report and record accidents of the human and machine kind.
As the old adage says, to be human is to err. Even with some driverless cars on the road, plenty of human-driven cars will be out there, and accidents are inevitable. When someone gets into a car accident and is injured, no matter if the cause was human or technology, they should immediately call an attorney to help them seek compensation.