As self-driving vehicles have made their debut in test markets across the United States, critics have raised many important safety questions related to autonomous driving technologies. These questions came to a head with the death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, who was killed after being struck by a self-driving SUV operated by Uber.
Multiple investigations into the accident are currently underway. Many lawmakers are calling for suspension of self-driving test programs and clearer safety guidelines. While these are important steps, it is important to remember the risks inherent to all vehicle use.
Vox summed up the problem succinctly: a self-driving Uber killed one pedestrian, and human drivers kill an average of 16 victims each day.
The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Autonomous Driving Technologies
Every time a person drives or rides in a vehicle, or uses the road as a pedestrian or motorcyclist, he or she is exposed to the risk of auto accident injuries. This is simply a risk that most Americans accept. In light of the benefits road use provides, the risk is considered an acceptable trade-off. We may not stop and think about this cost-benefit analysis, but it is nonetheless accepted every time we use the roadway. The law refers to this as a “risk-utility” test, in which the risk of an activity is outweighed by the utility of the conduct.
But what does this have to do with self-driving vehicles? In this case, the risks associated with a self-driving vehicle should be less than the benefits they provide. If not, the law should ban them, or regulate self-driving vehicles until the risks are lowered to an acceptable point below the associated benefits. It is therefore important to understand exactly what risks self-driving vehicles bring to the road.
Self-driving cars are expected to be, on the whole, much safer than those operated by human drivers. This is because a staggering proportion of car accidents are caused by human error. As autonomous technologies improve and expand, they will be able to continually reduce accident rates as a result of fewer human errors. It will likely take time for the United States to embrace self-driving vehicles and the technology they rely on.
Vox reports that the United States is behind other high-income countries in the implementation of evidence-based policies that reduce traffic fatalities. As a result, road users are 40 percent more likely to die in the United States than in Canada or Australia.
The outcome of the Arizona investigation remains to be seen. Self-driving vehicles must prove their safety with extensive testing and reviews of crash data. But in the meantime, it is important to look at the evidence in order to implement effective crash-prevention measures.
When accidents do happen, a Seminole County car accident attorney can help injury victims hold negligent drivers accountable for the damage they cause. This is an important step toward preventing unsafe driving habits that injure other innocent victims. In the case of self-driving cars, a lawsuit against a negligent manufacturer can also help make autonomous driving technologies safer in the future.