Self-Driving Cars Are Not as Safe as We Hoped

By  //  October 8, 2020

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Some tout self-driving cars as the solution for reducing accidents and highway fatalities.

These proponents praise the autonomous vehicle for its automatic braking and safety features. When used properly, autonomous vehicles may be safer than human-operated vehicles.

Unfortunately, self-driving cars are still prone to errors and may not be as safe as promised, especially when humans are not aware of their surroundings. A recent accident in Taiwan exhibits how an overreliance on autopilot and lapses in safety technology can still cause dangerous accidents.

The Taiwan Accident

The accident in Taiwan likely shows a Tesla vehicle’s shocking autopilot failure. While it is unknown whether the vehicle was in autopilot mode, the truck’s sheer size makes it difficult to believe a human driver could not see it until impact. Luckily, no one was injured in the accident.

Tesla’s autopilot mode still requires the user to occasionally grab the wheel to prove they are paying attention. This driver was likely meeting the minimum attention requirement and noticed the truck far too late. Although human error was involved in this accident, it’s important to examine how the autopilot system failed.

Autopilot Failures

The autopilot safety feature fails in two ways. First, the car failed to yield to the pedestrian on the side of the road who was awaiting assistance. Had the man not moved, the car would have certainly crashed into him. Second, the autopilot also failed to detect a large barrier on a clear road with regular visibility.

The car’s computer vision system, which recognizes obstacles based on image training, may not have recognized the overturned truck given the unfamiliar sight. Likewise, the glare and positioning of the truck may have made it more difficult for the vision system to detect.

Pedestrian Safety

Tesla has improved its systems to the point where pedestrian safety is almost perfect. For whatever reason, the car’s automatic emergency brake did not activate.

Additionally, there may have been issues with the LIDAR (light distance mapping system) and navigation capabilities. The LIDAR should have easily detected the truck, and the map radar should have indicated a large object extended across the outer lanes. An alert driver could have avoided this accident altogether.

Safety Statistics

A 2019 Tesla Q4 report found that cars on autopilot registered “one accident per every 3.07 million miles driven.” According to the 2017 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, there was one accident for every 508 thousand miles driven (including human-operated and autonomous crashes). While these reports have different time frames and may use varying definitions of what constitutes an accident, it appears autonomous vehicles are safer per mile driven.

So Who’s Responsible for an Accident?

Determining liability in a self-driving car accident can be difficult. Key factors include what the human driver was doing and whether an alert driver could have prevented the accident.

“Each autonomous car accident will be unique and it will be tricky to assign liability in the next few years,” says Attorney John Berry of Berry Law Firm. “Each state has different regulations for vehicle autonomy and minimum driver control. In some cases, liability may fall on the driver, while in others it may be assigned to the manufacturer. There is no one-size-fits-all formula to determine self-driving car liability at this time.”

With this variability in self-driving car accident cases, it’s important to let an experienced lawyer take the lead in your claim. A knowledgeable attorney can collect evidence to prove that the accident was out of the driver’s control. A successful claim can ultimately improve long-term vehicle safety.

Accidents are inevitable. Some collisions may be preventable with autonomous safety technology and others with proper human supervision. Still, an autonomous vehicle crash will likely receive more attention than most other accidents.

Regardless, some have heard claims that self-driving vehicles will eradicate auto collisions and accident fatalities. While this may one day be true, the systems are still new and prone to hiccups.

Like any other vehicle on the road, drivers must remain attentive and intervene when necessary. Self-driving cars may be safe to a certain extent, but human error will continue to add an unforeseen element to road travel.