Not If but When: Self-driving Cars Are Coming, but Will They Be Safe?

News reports frequently tell us about tests of automated cars. Some self-driving cars have been tested in California and Arizona. While they are not yet fully operational or legal to drive — they have been intended as tests only — they do point to a future where, at some point, cars may drive us rather than us driving cars.

But why are self-driving cars being developed, and are you likely to see them soon on a highway near you?

The Why: Safety and Other Benefits

The chief reason self-driving vehicles are being developed is safety. Automobile accidents killed more than 35,000 people in 2015, the last year for which statistics are available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). An overwhelming number, 94%, are caused by human error. Self-driving technology has tremendous potential to reduce and even eliminate driver error.

Self-driving vehicles, for example, will regulate much of the driving. Drivers going over the speed limit, a frequent cause of crashes, could be eliminated. Driving under the influence of alcohol, a major contributor to impaired judgment, would become a thing of the past. Cars will be equipped to sense when there is not sufficient room to turn safety, or when traffic has suddenly slowed.

Although safety is the paramount reason, it should also be noted that car accidents contribute to economy costs, and that these could be greatly reduced. Collisions cost a total of $242 billion in 2010. Lost productivity in the workplace alone cost $57.6 billion and lost life and eroded quality of life cost $594 billion.

The When: A Continuum Leading Toward the Future

The question of when self-driving vehicles will become a reality can’t be answered with complete certainty. Self-driving technologies need to be fully tested, reviewed, and likely regulated by both the state and the U.S. government.

One useful way to think of self-driving technologies is as a continuum. At one point in the twentieth century, for example, cars were not required to include seat belts. Then, due to safety tests that clearly indicated a safety advantage, they were mandated as part of a car’s equipment. Anti-skid devices, power brakes, and more all followed the same path.

More recently, video cameras give drivers a panorama that allows them to back up more safely. Cruise control features have become more sophisticated.

The NHTSA forecasts that vehicles will gradually phase in more and more automated features through 2025. The car itself will do more, but drivers will still drive. Fully self-driving vehicles are not expected until after 2025.

Hurt in a Crash? Talk to a Car Accident Attorney at EKJ

While improving safety on the roads is a laudable goal, accidents caused by negligence are still likely to occur, even if cars do become more automated. When accidents happen, you need an experienced car accident lawyer in New York state.

Edelman, Krasin & Jaye will discuss your case and potential next steps. Our initial consultation is free. Call today to discuss your case with seasoned New York City and Long Island car accident lawyers today.

Additional Resources:

  1. Automated Vehicles for Safety. U.S. Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  2. Driver Assistance Technologies. U.S. Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.