Autonomous Cars: The Road to Safer Driving?

haydn.thompson Friday July 21, 2017

The primary interest of the automotive industry in introducing autonomous driving is to improve road safety. An immediate benefit from this is reduction in deaths. However, there will also be a reduction in serious injuries reducing suffering of citizens at an individual level while at the same time saving medical and insurance costs which will benefit society as a whole. Indeed safety of autonomous cars is the main driver for their market introduction. As most crashes involve human error, and autonomous operation can reduce or eliminate these errors, exploitation of CPS is expected to benefit road safety. Although there have been notable high-profile failures with autonomous cars crashing from companies working at the “bleeding edge” of the technology the results from early cars are promising. The key problem appears to be that it is possible to design for known scenarios but unfortunately it is not possible to design for all the unforeseen scenarios that occur in the real world. Also looking to the future as autonomous technologies become more common, new types of crashes may emerge, for instance crashes resulting from the car handing control back to the driver unexpectedly or from mixing autonomous and conventional vehicles on the roads. If an accident is imminent there may well be cases where handing back control to the human is the wrong course of action. Here there are very difficult decisions to be made on behalf of humans about whether they are capable of reacting in the most appropriate way. This loss of authority may well be totally unacceptable to citizens even it means that they will suffer more serious injuries or death as a result of a crash if control is returned to them at the last moment. So we will get safer roads, but there is a lot of work to be done on understanding how to deal with unusual situations on the fly and consider when to allow drivers authority to take control.