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We May Never Know if Autonomous Car Tech Is Truly Safe

The autonomous car revolution may be happening faster than we thought, but according to a series of studies, the technology may also not be as safe as everyone thought. The problem is: there isn’t enough time to carry the necessary tests before the systems are made available in the near future.

One of the many arguments pro-autonomous car technology advocates make is the technology is safer than conventional vehicles.

According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2.29 million auto-related injuries were registered in 2013, while 32,028 people were killed in traffic crashes within the same period. In 94 percent of all car crashes, reports show, human error is to blame. To regulators, “human error” includes intoxicated driving, speeding, fatigue, and distraction.

But how much safer would a driver be if the vehicle were to do all the driving?

According to research carried out by RAND Corporation, the most autonomous miles a self-driving car company has logged are about 1.3 million miles. Annually, American drivers travel 3 trillion miles. According to RAND, self-driving vehicles would have to log many more miles before researchers are able to draw statistical conclusions regarding the autonomous car technology and how safe and reliable the systems can be.

Data from a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute also show that self-driving vehicles are often nearly five times as likely to be involved in crashes as those that are being operated by human drivers. And while the number of injuries associated with self-driving car crashes is relatively high when compared to regular auto crashes, no fatalities have ever been associated with the autonomous technology.

To researchers, it’s hard to predict the real-world consequences of the self-driving technology if the companies haven’t logged enough miles. And for that to happen could take decades.
Will regulators allow companies to make use of the self-driving technology long before companies are able to prove the devices are safe?

For more details on the studies on how self-driving technology will require many years of test before we know for sure the system is safe, follow this link to read the full report.

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