Self-driving or autonomous vehicles (AVs) were designed under the presumption that human interference accounts for most auto accident occurrences. According to statistics gathered in the State of California, between 2014 and 2018, AV vehicles driving in autonomous mode accounted for fewer accidents than those driven conventionally.
Currently, these AVs can alternate between autonomous mode and conventional mode. The former relies on computer calculations to maneuver the vehicle, whereas the latter relies on human direction. However, there are five stages of autonomous control, current vehicles do not exceed a level 2. This means drivers need to be aware of the road at all times; even when driving in autonomous mode.
Potential Problems with Self-Driving Vehicles
The testing of autonomous vehicles reveals several potential problems. For example, these vehicles can fail to recognize pedestrians or other potential road hazards. For example, an AV engineered by Uber failed to recognize a woman as a pedestrian, resulting in a collision. When the accident occurred, vehicular programming only associated pedestrians with crosswalks and did not account for jaywalkers. Unfortunately, the pedestrian involved in the accident was jaywalking, resulting in the vehicle’s failure to identify them as a potential hazard.
Furthermore, autonomous vehicles may also face mechanical glitches or may lack proper programming. In the previous example, the AV failed to notify the driver of the potential road hazard, as its emergency braking system was defective. Not only does this pose a threat to the other vehicles or persons on the roadway, but failure to notify the driver of a potential threat endangers the life of the handler as well.
Additionally, these vehicles are test-driven on public roads; exposing the public to potential risks without consent. If mechanical errors continue to occur, regular citizens may face unnecessary risk while on the roadway. Lastly, the majority of information pertaining to these vehicles is top secret. Manufacturers engineering these vehicles limit the information they share with the public; limiting their competition.
When an issue arises, after a thorough analysis, the engineers will adjust the vehicle’s coding. Furthermore, these companies must submit a yearly report to their state DMV detailing the mileage put on their vehicles, and the number of times a human needed to correct the assumptions made by the vehicle’s coding. Additionally, when an auto accident occurs, involving these vehicles, the developing company must submit a detailed collision report within 10 days of the accident.
Most Common AV Accidents
Rear-end accidents account for ⅔ of all accidents involving autonomous vehicles. Sideswipes, pedestrian accidents, collisions with foreign objects, and those classified as ‘other’ account for the remaining ⅓.
Liability in Accidents Involving Self-Driving Vehicles
When autonomous vehicles are involved in a collision it may be difficult to assign blame to any one party. The totality of the circumstances may demonstrate fault belonging to several parties, making it extremely difficult to assign blame. For instance, fault could lie with a pedestrian, involved driver(s), or any combination thereof; fault may also lie with the car manufacturer if the accident resulted from a computer glitch.
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