Are self-driving cars safer than human drivers?

How driverless cars could make us all safer

Are self-driving cars safer? In recent years, the emergence of self-driving cars has raised numerous questions regarding their safety. A recent study shows this could actually make our roads safer for humans.

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People have their concerns about cars with nobody in the driver’s seat, and understandably so. But is that lack of trust founded in emotion or objectivity? A recently published study from Waymo, formerly known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, shows promising safety statistics. Tesla, the self-driving car company founded by Elon Musk, is also keen on proving its case for reducing ‘deaths per mile driven’, but will data be enough to change public opinion?

Are self-driving cars safer than human drivers?

Waymo LLC, a subsidiary of Alphabet, is an American autonomous driving technology company headquartered in Mountain View, California. A recently published safety analysis of over 7 million autonomously driven miles found an 85% reduction in “injury-causing crash rates” and a 57% reduction in “police-reported crash rates” while using their driverless cars. Figures like this continuously make self-driving cars a palatable option, when faced with the morbid statistics relating to cars driven by humans.

A study conducted by Waymo, the self-driving car manufacturer and Google subsidiary.
Accidents in self-driving cars compared to cars driven by humans.

The data to date indicates the Waymo Driver is already reducing traffic injuries and fatalities in the places where we currently operate. At Waymo, we aim to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities by driving safely and responsibly, and will carefully manage risk as we scale our operations.

The EU AI Act on driverless cars and the safety of automated public transport

The EU AI Act outlines a risk classification system for the implementation of AI across various industries. We must be cautious about the systemic single-point failure risk of AI automation in public infrastructure, which is one of the most critical industries on the scale. Alongside education, safety products, employment, law enforcement, and the administration of justice, the act ensures that public infrastructure will receive “continual human oversight” and “be subject to the strictest vetting process before AI can be used, if at all”.

Could we consider ride-sharing apps (like Uber and Waze) public infrastructure? After all, they are for-profit commercial entities, not government institutions. Schools, libraries, trains, trams, and banks are public infrastructure. These are fundamental elements of modern society and without them, a country would grind to a halt.

So crucial are these services that they can’t be entrusted to a company (which could go bankrupt). Whether self-driving cars (and the ride-share apps that will end up employing them) are subject to the same scrutiny of AI regulation as trains and buses will be up to the Supreme Court.

Steve’s opinion

I remember the first time I rode in a Tesla. It’s uncommon to get a Tesla as your Uber ride home, at least in the UK, but living in a city you’ll see one now and again. This is going to get anecdotal, but the driver, seeing my expression, gave me the rundown that he’s probably given to hundreds of riders before me. “It’s AI-assisted,” he told me, “it follows the lines on the road, but only to keep us straight and follow bends, it won’t make any turns. I can take over whenever I touch the wheel”.

He did admit that it only worked well on undamaged urban streets, as those with worn-out road markings aren’t suitable. I was curious about Uber’s policy on drivers using self-driving cars. That’s fine too, he told me, because it’s self-driving, not driverless, and should anything go awry he was still there to control it. We had a great chat about it – he was understandably proud of his well-kept and futuristic vehicle, and I got to hear his view on AI as a whole.

Honestly, this is a great example of working smarter, not harder. If it can make the worker’s life easier without any downside to the employer, I’m all for it, and it seems that Uber itself agrees.

Steve is the AI Content Writer for PC Guide, writing about all things artificial intelligence. He currently leads the AI reviews on the website.