Pennsylvania is at center stage of the driver-less car revolution, with Carnegie Mellon University leading the way in self-driving vehicle research. It’s an exciting time, and we help answer some common questions about how these machines operate and more importantly, if there are safety advantages that could decrease the number of Pennsylvania auto accidents each year.
High Pennsylvania Accident Rates
There are over 120,000 accidents every year in Pennsylvania. But that accident rate is still lower than the rate for driver-less cars. A recent University of Michigan study showed that the accident rate among robotic vehicles is double that of human drivers. However, it’s important to note that the study was very small (11 cars) and driver-less vehicles were not at fault in any of the crashes.
The problem is that computers can only perform as well as programmed to do. In contrast, people can use reason to arrive at the correct life-or-death decision in a split second. Moreover, humans anticipate how other drivers will react in certain situations. Machines can only attempt to make similar predictions based on mathematical calculations. For example, real drivers know that during rush hour traffic, incoming cars will be less likely to yield to ongoing traffic. Everyone wants to get onto the freeway and get on their way. A machine might fail to understand that certain etiquette goes out the window when the stakes change in rush hour.
Driver-less Car Safety Debate
Should scientists teach self-driving cars to commit traffic infractions to better copy humans and stay out of trouble? As of now, research teams continue to create software that sticks to the rules.
Raj Rajkumar, a director at the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab, says that safety concerns lead them to stay within the law. Because the public continues to have questions about self-driving cars, any accident involving this new technology raises concerns. As a result, it seems in the best interest of researchers to have them strictly abide by the rules. Announcing that these cars will break certain traffic violations on a regular basis could prevent their acceptance by the people of Pennsylvania.
Yet, everything is not as simple as it may seem. A self-driving car that mimics real human behavior could prove safer than the current models, or looking further into the future, a fleet of self-driving cars would almost certainly be safer than human drivers.
The Carnegie Mellon Test
Carnegie Mellon has a self-driving Cadillac SUV at its research facility. In a 2013 test, the institution sent U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Barry Schoch, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for a ride and the vehicle performed very well.
The Future of Driver-less Cars
Driver-less cars will continue to improve, and as they do, they will almost certainly prove safer and more reliable than human drivers. These cars also hold the promise of protecting drivers from their own bad decisions, including drinking or texting. If everything comes to fruition, we hope driver-less cars can dramatically decrease traffic fatalities, potentially saving more than 40,000 American lives every year. For now, if you or a loved one have been injured in an accident, please contact the experienced firm of Solnick & Associates for a free consultation.