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Study: Self-driving cars will eliminate only a third of crashes

The companies developing self-driving vehicles have long pushed the notion that once their technology has been implemented, motor vehicle crashes will become relics of the past such as phone booths, typewriters and the telegraph. But a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says autonomous cars will prevent only a third of all traffic crashes.

The IIHS says the 360-degree sensors in self-driving vehicles will be better at observing the traffic world than humans are, but that autonomous cars will still get into collisions, even if all vehicles are autonomous.

Part of the problem, the IIHS says, will be if autonomous vehicles are programmed to prioritize convenience over safety. A consortium of companies developing self-driving tech says the insurance industry's flawed study fails to take into account that the emphasis is on both passenger safety and convenience.

IIHS analyzed 5,000 crashes for their study, determining that driver sensing and perception errors accounted for 24 percent of the accidents and that incapacitation (drunk or drugged driving or driver medical conditions) accounted for another 10 percent. Those types of wrecks would be virtually eliminated by the driverless tech, the group said.

But other causes of crashes could persist:

  • Prediction errors: when drivers misjudge distance or speed or make incorrect assumptions about the behaviors of other drivers
  • Planning and deciding mistakes: driving too fast or too slow for conditions; aggressive driving (including tailgating)
  • Execution and performance errors: inadequate or incorrect crash-avoidance maneuvers and other mistakes in vehicle control

In the present, all of those types of crashes occur every day on Raleigh streets, often resulting in serious injuries and sometimes fatalities. Opinions are obviously mixed as to whether self-driving vehicles will substantially ease or even eliminate the grim reality of today's auto wrecks.

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