The road to Autonomous Vehicles: How safe is safe enough?

There’s a societal resistance to autonomous vehicles as manufacturers begin to blur the lines between driving and being driven. The question now isn’t when the technology will arrive, but when will we accept it?

The rise in vehicle autonomy has been a controversial trend in the automotive industry, but it is gradually proving to be safer than a human driver.

While the technology being installed in vehicles is rational and measured, human beings are susceptible to being the exact opposite.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that “94 percent of serious crashes are due to dangerous choices or errors people make behind the wheel.”

Despite the high-risk with human drivers and the unparalleled 360-degree vision of an autonomous vehicle, the public are sceptical about the introduction and integration of self-driving vehicles – not only using them personally but driving with them on the road.

The RAND Model of Automated Vehicle Safety, written by Nidhi Kalra and David G. Groves, reflects the benefits of utilizing the self-drive technology earlier rather than later as they believe it can save many lives. They advocate releasing Highly Autonomous Vehicles (HAV) when they are just ten times safer than a human driver, instead of waiting until the HAV are 75 or even 90 percent safer than the human driver after researching the effects of each option.

The report explored a variety of conditions and compared the results of using the vehicles when they were ten times safer than a human and when they were 75 or 90 percent safer. The results showed that more lives were saved by using the vehicles despite still requiring improvements on their safety functionality. This was proven in both in short and long-term outcomes.

The short-term results suggested that hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved and the long-term results showed the potential to save over half a million lives.

A large barrier for the emergence of autonomous vehicles lies in outdated policies around road-law and insurance.

However, Britain’s biggest motor insurer, Direct Line, is one of the first insurance companies to recognize the potential safety in autonomous features on cars and offer Tesla drivers a 5% discount if they turn ‘Autopilot.’

The company are also aiming to encourage the development of research into autonomous vehicles by providing the incentive.

“At present the driver is firmly in charge so it’s just like insuring other cars, but it does offer Direct Line a great opportunity to learn and prepare for the future,” said Dan Freedman, Head of Motor Development at Direct Line.

Waiting for the perfectly modified autonomous vehicle could take a long time and the consequences in waiting for it could be significant as evidence in RAND’s study suggests.

With the driver remaining accountable and responsible, research into the safety of autonomous vehicles can continue to develop. Whether ten times safer than a human driver is safe enough to influence current policies, we will have to wait and see.

By Jade Maisey






Photo Credit: Oleksiy Naumov

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