Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by John Robinson
Self driving cars have been a major point of both innovation in the automobile market and contention in the consumer market. Automakers claim they are the wave of the future and will make it easier and safer to get from place to place, but consumers have their doubts about this new technology. This leads us to ultimately one question, are self driving cars safe?
To understand why this question is being asked and why it is so important, we have to look at the way that self-driving cars are designed and how that might be better or worse than a human controlling the vehicle. We aim to help answer that question with this post.
What is a Self-Driving Car Exactly?
A self driving car or driverless car is defined as a car that is capable of driving without human input. What this means is that the person in the car never has to touch the steering wheel or any of the dashboard components, the gas or the brakes. Traditionally the vehicle does have a manual override in case of malfunction but the intent for the vehicle to operate by itself.
It does this thanks to a system of cameras, sensors, AI technology, radar, and networking. The vehicle uses AI to drive the vehicle and maneuver in traffic while radar, the cameras and sensors help to keep it from colliding with other vehicles, make sure it obeys all traffic laws and generally keep it on the road.
What Makes a Self-Driving Car Safer Than a Human?
When looking at the numbers, a self-driving car is safer than a human for many reasons.
Firstly, the reaction time of a self-driving car is roughly a third of that of a human, making it able to respond and maneuver much more quickly than a person in dangerous situations. Thanks to early warning from sensors and cameras, the car is also able to anticipate and adjust to changing situations.
Second, thanks to network technology, the vehicle is able to find the optimal route to reach destinations and avoid things like traffic hazards. It can adapt and adjust to changing road conditions and plot the best course whether traveling short or long distances.
Lastly, it is immune to distractions that are currently the primary cause of auto accidents for human drivers.
What Are the Flaws in a Self-Driving Car?
While the technology in a self-driving car makes it safer than a human on paper, there are a few key flaws that consumers and researchers have pointed out that have left this question up for debate.
Most notably the lack of connectivity in some places. Self-driving cars operate by being connected to the internet essentially. The sensors and radar rely on a connection to send and receive data from other cars and nearby infrastructure. If this connection is weakened or cut, the car cannot drive properly, may react slower, or may not function at all. Similar to how hitting a dead zone causes your cell phone to drop calls, the same is true for self-driving cars.
Second, being that a self-driving car is much like a computer on wheels, it will need updates to constantly stay able to navigate and perform on the road. If an issue arises that compromises the vehicle, it would have to be fixed before the vehicle could be driven again. Also, the car can only operate based on the most recent information it has available. This could lead to problems if, for instance, road construction is not updated in a timely fashion.
Finally, many computer experts have expressed concern over the possibility of malicious hacking interfering with a self-driving car. The potential results are scary as individual cars could be driven to a different destination, made to have an accident, or just disabled entirely. As all computer technology carries some risk of being hacked, this has become a major concern among those researching self-driving vehicles.
Ultimately, the answer to the question: are self-driving cars safe, appears to be, not yet. Though there is a lot of promise in this technology, there have also been incidents of it failing. Until internet connectivity is more stable and widespread and the protections against malfunction and hacking are better, self-driving cars are going to remain out of reach for the masses.