One of the main draws of self-driving vehicles is the chance to reduce accidents caused by driver error. But while the technology is still evolving, are self-driving cars dangerous?
Self-driving cars are just one of the latest examples of tech companies taking science fiction and turning it into reality. But unlike glasses that feature a computer screen only the wearer can see or grocery store robots that automatically track when items need restocking, self-driving cars are uniquely dangerous.
Experts predict that by 2030, the annual production of robocars will reach 800,000 units worldwide. The industry, which is currently valued at $5.6 billion, is expected to top $60 billion that same year.
Interested in owning your very own sci-fi vehicle or want to stay informed on the latest roadway hazards? If so, keep reading. Are self-driving cars dangerous? Let’s take a look.
When Did Self Driving Cars First Emerge?
Believe it or not, the concept for the first self-driving car was actually launched in 1939. The vehicle was part of an exhibit by GM that was meant to envision what the world would look like in 20 years. By 1958, GM had made that early concept a reality. Japanese developers continued to develop early designs for self-driving vehicles during the 1970s.
But it hasn’t been until recent years that auto manufacturers began showing an interest in self-driving vehicles.
Are Self-Driving Cars Dangerous?
The development of self-driving cars is still very much underway. However, some models have already made their way to roadways in the U.S. Are self-driving cars dangerous? Early concerns from experts, as well as accident statistics involving self-driving vehicles, might indicate that they are.
Experts have raised a variety of concerns over the safety of self-driving vehicles. Are self-driving cars dangerous? If these concerns are not addressed by the manufacturer and solved with real solutions, the answer is likely yes.
Here are just a few of the reasons why some experts believe that self-driving cars are a threat on our roadways:
The Industry is Unregulated
Like many new technologies, there aren’t agencies in place to regulate them to the full extent that other industries and technologies are regulated. Because of this, the self-driving car industry is largely unregulated, which means that there isn’t a standard set for safety features.
This is one trend that’s likely to continue for at least the next several years of production. Until a baseline for necessary safety standards can be established, the industry is likely to remain unregulated.
Manual Vehicles are Still Sharing the Roads
The idea of self-driving vehicles is that they follow all laws, street signs, and other indicators, like lane lines. This means that they drive “perfectly” on roadways, unlike human drivers that might speed or swerve, or fall asleep behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, this “perfect” driving only works if there aren’t other cars on the roadways. Self-driving cars may not be fully equipped to react to unpredictable human drivers sharing the roads. A self-driving car may do nothing wrong. But it also may not be able to react in the same way that a human driver can to errors by other drivers on roadways.
They Might Not be Ready for Extreme Weather
When you’re driving down the road, you can see with your eyes when weather conditions change. You know from past experience that high winds can unexpectedly push your vehicle, or that heavy rain can cause you to hydroplane.
Self-driving vehicles don’t have the same capability. Until technology advances from where it is today, self-driving cars will remain unable to react to things that they can’t easily sense.
Self-Driving Cars May be Vulnerable to Hacking
Much like self-driving vehicle technology, hackers have come a long way in the last couple of decades. As such, they are able to hack anything that utilizes a computer and internet connection. This includes security cameras, smart home devices--and self-driving vehicles.
Theoretically, this means that hackers could break through the security of a self-driving vehicle. This may allow them to gain remote control of the car. Even if they don’t take over the car, they may still be able to steal sensitive private data, like your location, cell phone information, and more.
They May Be Prone to Computer Malfunctions
Much like having a computer and internet access makes self-driving vehicles a target to hackers, it also means that they may be prone to computer malfunctions. Most self-driving vehicles are comprised of dozens of separate computers. Each of these computers needs to be functioning properly in order for the car and all of its features to operate properly.
Just like your home computer, a single computer malfunction can wreak havoc on your vehicle. Even if the malfunction doesn’t happen while driving and puts you in harm’s way, it can still render your vehicle useless until it's fixed.
Are Self-Driving Cars Dangerous: Taking a Look at Accident Statistics
Determining the answer to the question, “are self-driving cars dangerous,” means looking at more than just potential problems that experts have identified. We also need to consider records on accidents involving self-driving cars that have already occurred.
There is plenty of information available about accidents and self-driving cars. But it’s harder to compile statistics about the safety of these vehicles. Until there are more self-driving cars on the roads, comparing the statistics of their safety versus manual vehicles is a challenge.
However, we can take a look at some specific accident statistics for some self-driving vehicle manufacturers.
For instance, there have been many reports of the success of Waymo, a manufacturer of driverless cars designed to be robo-taxis. The company logged more than 6.1 million miles of autonomous driving between 2019 and 2020. Of those miles, 65,000 were driven with no human behind the wheel. During the miles when a driver was present, there were 29 instances when a driver needed to intervene. They did so in order to avoid an accident. In total, 18 accidents occurred.
Are Self-Driving Vehicles Safe?
Are self-driving cars dangerous? Unfortunately, this question doesn’t have a clear answer. It’s obvious that self-driving vehicles, when they perform correctly and under the right circumstances, greatly reduce the risk of driver error. This, in turn, means fewer accidents.
At the same time, the still-developing technology does leave some concern about safety. Regardless of whether they are currently safe or not, one thing that is certain is that manufacturers will continue to develop and improve the technology in the coming years!