Tuesday, 15 May 2018 16:45

Don't Blame Self-Driving Cars for Accidents Caused by Humans

Written by Eric Boehm, Reason.com


Second, that fear metastasizes into policy. As two writers at Wired put it, the crash on May 4 is "threatening to resurrect tough questions about the safety of autonomous technology and rip the barely-crusted scab off the technology's reputation."

That would be like blaming someone sitting in your back seat for an accident that happens three cars in front of you. No reasonable person can look at the May 4 crash and conclude that it should raise any questions---tough or otherwise---about the self-driving minivan. What was the Waymo car supposed to do? Apparate to avoid the oncoming, swerving, human-operated car?

What this minor accident in Arizona really shows is that human beings are pretty [bad] drivers. We make mistakes like pulling into oncoming traffic. Around 100 people lose their lives every day in car crashes in America, and about 90 percent of all car accidents (including the one in Chandler) are the result of human error. Americans spend $230 billion annually to cover the costs of accidents, accounting for approximately 2 to 3 percent of the country's GDP.

Autonomous cars won't be perfect, and they should face criticism when it's appropriate, but there is a humongous margin for self-driving vehicles to be imperfect but still better than human drivers. Within that margin, cars like the ones Waymo is currently testing will literally save lives.

Even when they are at fault for accidents---and sometimes they will be---we should keep testing self-driving cars. That is the only way to find out if they can indeed be safer than human-driven cars, and it is the only way the technology will improve.

Unless politicians get in the way, that is. And nothing makes politicians more likely to overreact to a perceived threat than a bunch of garbage journalism that inflates a potential threat---see: terrorism, human trafficking, letting your child play outside---like the coverage of the May 4 accident.

We thank Reason.com for reprint permission.

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