Autonomous vehicles began as concept cars, highlighting the type of futuristic technology that car companies like showing off. The difference is that while many concept vehicles never make it onto the road, self-driving cars have. They’ve done so under the guise of making our roads safer from human error, and auto makers continue to make improvements with the goal of substantially reducing traffic accidents caused by human error.

Humans cause around 94% of all traffic accidents; therefore, driverless vehicles should save millions of lives if they eliminate human error. However, AP News reports that a new study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) aren’t anywhere close to reaching that threshold.

What the IIHS study revealed about autonomous vehicles

The IIHS believes that autonomous vehicles will realistically prevent about one-third of crashes caused by human error. That’s not insignificant, but it comes nowhere close to the “miracle cure” that driverless cars are supposed to offer. The Institute tracked crash data for 5,000 vehicles, and divided the accidents into “sensing and perceiving” errors, like driver distraction, and “incapacitation” errors, such as driving drunk. The study believes that self-driving vehicle can address incapacitation errors, but “may not be able to prevent the rest, including prediction errors such as misjudging how fast another vehicle is traveling, planning errors including driving too fast for road conditions and execution errors including incorrect evasive maneuvers or other mistakes controlling vehicles.”

In short, driverless cars can’t stop all human error accidents, after all.

Trading one form of human error for another

“Robocars,” as the IIHS calls them, only work as well as they’re programmed to work. That means humans still have to input data and predict every instance a vehicle could pose a threat to another vehicle, a person, or an obstacle that could injure the occupants of the autonomous vehicle. We’ve already seen a fatal instance of human error in programming. A woman was killed in Tempe, Arizona in 2018 by a self-driving Uber that failed to recognize her as a jaywalker because she wasn’t near a crosswalk.

Another factor to consider is that artificial intelligence (AI) is used in programming these robocars. That means over time they have the potential to learn to drive just like humans do, only without the element of human reasoning. One questions where there is really a huge gain to be made by programming cars to drive like humans when humans are the ones causing the accidents.

Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), a coalition formed by industry members and their allies, objects to the IIHS study’s findings. According to the group, even just programming self-driving vehicles to obey all traffic laws would cut down on 38% of crashes; however, they also admit the numbers they predict are purely speculative due to the complexity of AI.

Missy Cummings, a Duke University robotics and human factors professor, is less speculative. She told AP News that “preventing even one-third of the human-caused crashes is giving technology too much credit. Even vehicles with laser, radar and camera sensors don’t always perform flawlessly in all conditions, she said.”

What happens if you are injured in a robocar?

Determining liability when it comes to autonomous vehicle crashes is a challenge. Motor vehicle laws still have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to this ever evolving technology. California is still in the testing phase for driverless cars, and has implemented strict regulations, but has not introduced any legislation as of yet.

Without this legislation, filing a claim for injuries can be difficult: is the manufacturer responsible? The owner/“driver” of the vehicle? The State of California, for allowing testing on public roads? All three? Until this is clearly outlined in the law, you would do well to work with an attorney who has experience handling car accidents and product liability claims, rather than attempt to settle a case on your own.

The Los Angeles product liability attorneys at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP fully investigate your case to ensure that every culpable party is held accountable, and that the maximum compensation is sought for your injuries. To schedule your free consultation, we invite you to call our office at 310-474-1582, or reach out to us through our contact page.