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Self-Driving Vehicles May Prevent Only About a Third of Crashes, Study Says


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driver on curved road

Accidents related to poor decision-making will persist if autonomous vehicles model human behavior.

Credit: Getty Images

Autonomous vehicles might prevent only around a third of all crashes if automated systems drive too much like people, according to a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"It's likely that fully self-driving cars will eventually identify hazards better than people, but we found that this alone would not prevent the bulk of crashes," says Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research and a coauthor of the IIHS study.

Conventional thinking has it that self-driving vehicles could one day make crashes a thing of the past. The reality is not that simple. According to a national survey of police-reported crashes, driver error is the final failure in the chain of events leading to more than 9 out of 10 crashes.

But the Institute's analysis suggests that only about a third of those crashes were the result of mistakes that automated vehicles would be expected to avoid simply because they have more accurate perception than human drivers and aren't vulnerable to incapacitation. To avoid the other two-thirds, they would need to be specifically programmed to prioritize safety over speed and convenience.

"Building self-driving cars that drive as well as people do is a big challenge in itself," says IIHS Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller, lead author of the study. "But they'd actually need to be better than that" to eliminate crashes.

From Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
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