When it comes to the future of self-driving vehicles, one of the first questions most people ask relates to accidents and liability. Can Apple assure that its autonomous electric car will be safer than human drivers?
Most autonomous vehicle testing is currently taking place in California. The cars have a test driver inside for reassurance. These vehicles are primarily regular production cars converted to “self-driving” by Google.
Reports of accidents related to self driving cars is not new. However, thus far, no reported accidents have been faulted to the autonomous vehicles. The computer-piloted cars have always been on the receiving end of the crash. Surely this can be attributed to human drivers not anticipating what the “computer” may decide. Also the autonomous functions may make slow, quirky, or uncommon choices (although maybe the best, safest, most-calculated choices) that human drivers just don’t predict or understand.
A recent accident that occurred in Mountain View, California, is being reported as the first autonomous car accident caused by the computer.
One of Google Inc.’s self-driving cars hit a bus while in autonomous mode that may count as the first accident that was the fault of the computer.
“One of Google’s self-driving Lexus RX450Hs pulled around some sandbags blocking the far-right area of a turn lane expecting a bus traveling behind it in the same, extra-wide lane to slow or stop. The Lexus hit the side of the bus at 2 mph. Our test driver, who had been watching the bus in the mirror, also expected the bus to slow or stop. And we can imagine the bus driver assumed we were going to stay put. Unfortunately, all these assumptions led us to the same spot in the lane at the same time. This type of misunderstanding happens between human drivers on the road every day.”
Fortunately, the low-speed accident was very minor and sustained no injuries. It is clear that the accident was not the cause of a glitch, or related to any other “human-operated” vehicles nearby. The computer made a decision based on the surroundings, and that decision ultimately led to the crash.
According to a report in Wired, autonomous car accidents are reporting at one accident every 74,000 miles while American drivers log one crash per 238,000 miles. However, most sources have cited that the autonomous cars are “never” at fault, and the accidents are generally very minimal.
30,000 people are killed in the U.S every year due to “human” driving error. Wall Street Journal explained:
“Until self-driving cars can anticipate every possible road hazard, there’s always a chance that they’ll either be confused or make choices with unexpected (and sometimes unfortunate) consequences . . .the hope at this early stage . . . is to show that self-driving cars can be safer overall than their human-piloted counterparts.”
Safety is key. Autonomous testing is already well on its way to proving that this can be a safer option. Perhaps Apple is taking its time to assure that their system is “foolproof”. Tim Cook surely doesn’t need any more government scrutiny!