Self driving cars are the technology of the future. Google has been the first to really develop the technology, and their prototypes are already hitting the streets for impressive demonstrations. But they face unique challenges when it comes to accident prevention, challenges that have to be addressed before they are accepted as consumer-ready.
The majority of accidents are caused by human error. Theoretically, removing human error from the equation would reduce accidents by a significant amount, using an algorithm to preemptively correct risk factors at the time of each drive.
But how do you create a real plan of action when you don’t know the exact number of accidents that occur every year, or the details of those crashes? That is the problem Google is currently dealing with, thanks to the more than 55% of average accidents in the US that go unreported.
According to American federal law, accidents in which there are no injuries or minor damage to the vehicles don’t require a police report. That includes those that will be send to insurance agencies for compensation claims.
Without this information, it makes it harder for the engineers at Google to accurately predict the risk factors involved in self driving cars. Especially if only some cars are self driving, and others are being controlled by human operators.
In fact, that has already proven a problem. In the last several years of testing, a couple dozen accidents have occurred for the Google drivers. None of them were the fault of the self driving vehicle, all instead being caused by the human drivers in the other cars. That seems to lend weight to the claim that self driving cars are much safer.
Right now, Google engineers are attempting to really rate the risks for certain road conditions and areas. These include intersections, weather conditions that reduce visibility, and turns. They hope to learn the details of all minor and major accidents, in order to better protect against them as their program becomes more and more sophisticated.
For now, it seems likely that the only way to really reduce the risk is to get rid of all drivers, full stop. The question is whether or not that is feasible, and how long it might take before self driving cars hit the road. It doesn’t seem as though that will be possible for at least a full generation. Change takes time.