Daily Traffic Alerts

Just How Safe Are Self-Driving Cars?

Self Driving Car
Shutterstock

Many forward-looking auto manufacturers have begun looking into self-driving car technology. This tech, which once seemed like a distant future possibility, is now a reality. Manufacturers like Tesla ship cars with functional self-driving capabilities right now, and thousands of drivers are likely using such tech as you’re reading this article.

However, the question remains: just how safe is self-driving tech? Surely, if it’s seeing use in mass-produced vehicles and on public roadways, it’s perfectly safe, right? After all, human error is at play to some degree in nearly all traffic accidents. So, a machine should be perfect, incapable of making errors in judgment, and immune to all forms of auto accidents, right?

The Truth Is Complicated

Self-driving car technology is far from infallible. Like a human, a self-driving system has to rely on information from sensors. While humans use their eyes as these sensors, cars use LIDAR systems and satellite GPS information. Irregularities in their surroundings can act as the digital versions of an optical illusion, “confusing” the vehicle into thinking an obstacle isn’t present or is farther than it seems.

And “blind spot” crashed like that, the kind that imitates a strictly driver-error-induced crash, aren’t the only kinds of crashes. There are other crashes that can occur simply due to decision-making and risk assessment. These are difficult systems to program into machines, and, indeed, simple logic errors can occur to cause crashes in these systems.

People Are Really Good Drivers

Here’s something a lot of people don’t understand: humans are beyond smart. The human mind is an unparalleled computational entity on the planet. Humans can make thousands of decisions in a matter of moments, carefully adjusting their position and reevaluating a situation as it unfolds. The human capacity for learning and reacting is something that machines can’t replicate yet. And, indeed, it might be the sort of thing that machines are never able to imitate.

After all, science barely has a grasp on how it is that we’re so darn smart. We can barely comprehend the complexities of our own minds, so how could we imitate this robust computational entity on a silicone wafer and expect it to make decisions as well as we do?

Bottom Line

Self-driving vehicles might be able to eliminate some forms of traffic accidents. However, unless some new discovery redefines artificial intelligence and learning programs, computers will likely never fully supplant the gold, old-fashioned human driver. After all, there’s nothing on the planet as inventive, resourceful and quick-thinking as the human being.

DJ Swanson

D.J. Swanson never planned to be a writer. His first job was working in his family’s autobody shop, but after studying English and journalism in college, he decided not to join the family business.

Instead, D.J. realized that he could make a difference by helping people learn how to maintain their cars and drive safely in challenging conditions. He is proud to share his lifelong knowledge of cars and driving here at Daily Traffic Alerts.

Never miss an update by signing up for notifications about traffic news and safety!