Could driverless cars increase accidents in the short term?

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Even though many companies, ourselves included, like to talk up the many benefits of automated vehicles, perhaps their biggest impact on the world will be that they make the road ways safer. As more and more people switch over to letting computers drive the cars for us, it should become easier and easier to avoid accidents as the cars will not make mistakes like humans do. Except that they might when it comes to dealing with human drivers, which is why some people believe that when they are first introduced they might actually cause more accidents than they stop.

While fleets of connected vehicles will find it easy to avoid one another, it becomes much harder when you factor in humans and automated cars. The problem is, according to researchers at the University of Michigan, that experienced drivers have very good predictive skills for how other drivers might behave. That is not the case for driverless cars, which while built with predictive technology in mind, can’t substitute for real world experience, which will only come one or two generations of automation down the road. As it were.

“It is not a foregone conclusion that a self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced, middle-aged driver,” the researcher’s paper reads (via TheDrum). “During the transition period when conventional and self-driving vehicles would share the road, safety might actually worsen.”

Could this vehicle predict what pedestrians and cyclists are going to do enough to never hit them?

Could this vehicle predict what pedestrians and cyclists are going to do enough to never hit them?

Another issue with driverless cars, is that there is no interaction between them and other drivers. While a human might be able to wave someone forward, or give eye contact to let others know they are aware, automated vehicles can only move or not and it’s those instances where the software computes something differently from how a human driver might, that the potential for accidents occur.

Of course this will be a moot point in the future as with more driverless cars the problems become less and less, to the point where crashes should almost be eliminated. However there will be bugs throughout their development and some teething problems are to be expected. Incidents like breakdowns, animal crossings, authority figures like police stopping vehicles by hand, could all be difficult for a computer to interpret, so they will need to be ironed out before the technology can really catch on.

It won’t take that long though. Once the benefits are seen, even if there are a few issues that will be easy enough to deal with with continued innovation.

 

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.