Autonomous Vehicles

To Make Driving Safer, Humans Should Get Out Of The Driver's Seat

The advent of self-driving cars has brought with it plenty of questions. Is it really safe to put our lives in the hands of computers? Research into autonomous vehicle safety is in progress, but it's already pointing to one big answer: yes, absolutely. Robots are safer drivers than you are.

Related: Would You Ride Olli, The 3D-Printed, Self-Driving Minibus?

Here Are The Facts

In 2015, there were more than 35,000 traffic deaths in the U.S. alone. Want to know how many of those were caused not by vehicle malfunctions or poor weather, but by the drivers themselves? 94 percent. Humans are prone to distraction, beholden to sleep schedules, and biased overall. Autonomous vehicles, meanwhile, don't glance at their phones or get on the road after a few beers. They're programmed to do one job: drive safely. Sensors can see in all directions at once, and machine-learning algorithms can take weather, traffic, and pedestrians into account to make important driving decisions in a split second.

Related: The Dangerous Driving Sin You Didn't Know You Were Committing

Take one example that Nvidia automotive business unit director Danny Shapiro gave Business Insider: "...if you are driving along and there's a parked car with nobody in it, the vehicle will proceed next to that car. But if it sees the door is slightly open and there is somebody in it, well the expectation is that the door will open at any moment and someone will to try and get out of that car. So at that point, when the car senses that, it's either going to slow down, or switch lanes if it can, and proceed with caution. And because it has a full 360 degrees view around the car, it can be tracking multiple objects, with much greater things happening, with much greater accuracy than any human." While a human driver might never notice the door, or veer into a car in his blind spot to avoid it, a robot has all the information necessary to make the safest decision.

Related: What Calculus Has To Say About Driving In The Rain

The Ethics Of Autonomy Are Not What You Think

The research on driverless-car safety so far is murky. A 2016 Virginia Tech study found that while human-driven vehicles are in 4.2 crashes for every million miles driven, self-driving cars are in only 3.2 crashes every million miles. However, a 2015 University of Michigan study found the opposite. The fact is that autonomous vehicles have driven a tiny fraction of the miles human drivers have so far, so any comparisons are bound to be wildly off base. Meanwhile, many are debating the ethics of robot drivers: what if they have to decide between striking a cyclist and a child? A harmless compact car or a deadly 18 wheeler? Could they really make the right choice? Derek Muller of Veritasium, however, thinks the ethics argument should go in another direction: with more than 30,000 people dying on U.S. roads each year, is it really ethical not to take humans out of the driver's seat?

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Self-Driving Cars

The Real Moral Dilemma Of Self-Driving Cars

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How Do Self-Driving Cars Work?

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How Safe Are Self-Driving Cars?

2016 saw its first fatality from a self-driving car. What does this mean for the technology's future?

Key Facts In This Video

  1. A man was driving a Tesla car in autopilot mode when a truck made a left turn in front of him. The car didn't stop and went under the truck, killing the driver. 00:27

  2. Tesla's autopilot feature is the most advanced of its kind available right now. Here's how it works. 01:01

  3. According to Tesla, this is the first fatality in more than 200 million km that users have driven with autopilot enabled. 02:18

Written by Curiosity Staff July 20, 2016

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