The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has released a report saying autonomous vehicles could likely only prevent a third of all U.S. road crashes, but couldn’t help those caused by mistakes that self-driving systems can’t handle any better than human drivers.
The institute analysed 5,000 U.S. crashes and concluded that AVs could likely only prevent those caused by driver perception errors and incapacitation. They sorted the crashes into five causal categories: sensing and perception; predicting; planning and deciding; execution and performance, and incapacitation errors. Then they filtered those through current and likely forthcoming self-driving technological capabilities, to find that AVs will be able to eliminate sensing and perception errors, or crashes that result from driver distraction, and autonomous technologies won’t be subject to incapacitation by intoxication, fatigue, or medical events. Those two causal categories total up to 34% of crashes. The IIHS noted that automated systems will need to take road conditions and other driving strategies humans exhibit into account at all times. Any sort of misjudgment could end up as a planning or deciding type of crash if the self-driving car misjudges things.
Companies working on self-driving vehicles don’t agree; they say AVs can prevent many more crashes caused by a much wider range of factors, including more complex errors caused by drivers making inadequate or incorrect evasive manœuvres. Specifically, the Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, a consortium of AV tech companies, say self-driving cars could prevent 72% of crashes. And individual companies developing self-driving cars have called AV technology key to greatly reducing crashes.
The Self-Driving Coalition, an industry group that includes Waymo, Ford and Uber, says the IIHS has got it wrong: “Self-driving vehicle technology will help reduce the incidents of drunk driving (29% of all 2018 fatalities) and distracted driving (14% of all 2018 fatalities), and hold the potential to avoid problems that arise from fatigue, human error, speeding or other common causes of fatalities”.