Will Self-Driving Cars Absolutely Improve Road Safety?

According to IIHS data, 35.000 Americans were killed in 2015 in car accidents, of which 2.939 occurred in Florida.

Self-Driving Cars Road Safety
Sean M. Cleary

Sean M. Cleary

February 1, 2017 09:34 AM

How have cars changed the world? They create significant advantages, but the adverse outcomes are impressive as well. According to IIHS data, 35.000 Americans were killed in 2015 in car accidents, of which 2.939 occurred in Florida.

Car accidents are one of the world's major calamities regarding the death of people, and 94% of the deaths are caused by human error, according to NHTSA. In 2015, the costs related to deaths, injuries, and property damage resulting from motor-vehicle accidents were estimated to $412.1 billion.

Can Self-Driving Cars Be the Solution for Improved Road Safety?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation:

"Self-driving vehicles are those in which operation of the vehicle occurs without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration, and braking and are designed so that the driver is not expected to monitor the roadway while operating in self-driving mode constantly."

Therefore, this vehicle can work under any conditions, regardless of weather or possible restrictions in the infrastructure or the surroundings, without the intervention of the person in the car.

What does this mean?

The technology is on or in the car. That car relies on advanced sensors, radars, lidars, and other technologies in conjunction with mapping, to navigate.

In comparison, advanced driver assistance system (ADAs) include technologies that make a car capable of self-driving in some moments, but the driver can take over when needed. Some examples are technologies for collision avoidance, automated parking, and cruise control. Cars that have partial automation are not AVs (autonomous vehicles).

Technology developers and automakers estimate that AVs will be available to the public as early as 2018-2020.

Why Are Self-Driving Cars Safer?

Dashcam footage from Tesla cars impressively presents the efficiency of the Autopilot feature in predicting or avoiding accidents. According to Elon Musk, Tesla's founder, the company has laid the foundations for autonomous cars operating at a safety level "at least twice that of a person, maybe better."

Deaths and injuries from auto accidents will decrease substantially when human errors are eliminated from the driving act. Drunk driving, speeding, distractions, such as talking to other passengers, adjusting the car audio, eating/drinking, or using the phone, will no longer be problems.

The U.S. consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, analyzed the impact of driverless cars on the percentage of fatal accidents. It concluded that, in a few decades of use, AVs and ADAs could reduce accidents by up to 90% and would potentially save about $190 billion.

Driver-assistance systems are already making cars safer; therefore, it seems realistic that autonomous cars will prove to be safer choices overall.

Why Are Self-Driving Cars Dangerous?

Although they still have to overcome significant problems, self-driving cars appear to be safer than human-driven vehicles. However, the first self-driving fatalities gave rise to questions about the safety of the car's Autopilot system in crashes.

The fatal crashes also cast doubt on whether AVs, in general, can consistently make split-second, life-or-death driving decisions on the highway.

Autonomous Vehicles Involved in Accidents

The first U.S. AV fatal accident took place in northern Florida on May 7, when a Tesla Model S could not avoid a truck that was making a left turn in front of it.

Tesla defended its machine, saying that the Autopilot system was not at fault and that the accident involved a technical failure in the automated braking system.

Another Tesla fatal accident happened in China in January 2016. The victim was driving on the highway when his car hit a street sweeper truck at highway speed. The Autopilot was engaged, and the driver did not use the brakes.

In both accidents, the drivers were operating the cars without holding the wheel, which is against the agreement they had with Tesla.

Google cars have also been involved in more than a dozen accidents. The only at-fault accident happened after the AV had merged into the far right lane to turn, but its path was blocked by sandbags around a storm drain. While attempting to navigate around the sandbag, the car hit a public transit bus. No injuries were reported.

It could be concluded that in an ideal world, the safest conditions for autonomous vehicles would be those where every single vehicle on the road is autonomous. And obviously, that's not realistic.

Automated Vehicles Problems That Need Solutions

AVs use computer vision-based detection system, and some researchers believe that machine learning is not a straightforward process, making it unsure that self-driving cars will operate safely. The problem is that engineers don't always know how to write the requirements needed so that machines will run correctly.

That is why, currently, it is hard to program and test these vehicles for all the scenarios they could experience when encountering pedestrian hazards or small animals.

The weather is another problem for autonomous cars. Poor weather affects the vision systems, rendering cars inoperable. In the future, more sensors have to be embedded in the environment and the car.

Moreover, a report from research firm RAND Corporation found that self-driving cars can't be tested enough hours to determine their safety. The report says AVs must be tested "hundreds of millions of miles and sometimes hundreds of billions of miles" to obtain enough information to compare their safety to that of human-driven vehicles.

Other problems regard data protection, cyber security, and the necessary infrastructure changes.

States Where Self-Driving Cars Are Legal

Self-driving cars are not illegal; they are just not regulated in the majority of the states. Regulation must define categorically under which infrastructure conditions such vehicles can be operated.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has drafted a series of rules, guidelines, and policy proposals for self-driving cars. Thus, the agency has begun the task of determining the safety standards for the evolving technology.

Only a few states, California, Florida, Hawaii, Nevada, Michigan, Washington, D.C., have currently passed laws concerning how self-driving cars are tested and sold. In the rest of the states, self-driving cars may be operated, but regulators have yet to come up with rules.

Florida law regarding self-driving cars does not contain specific requirements; it just reinforces the idea that the testing and operating of autonomous technology is not prohibited or expressly regulated.

Conclusion: Liability in Situations Involving Self-Driving Vehicles

Accidents involving AVs raise important questions regarding liability:

  • Who is responsible when an AV gets into an accident: the driver, the technology developer, the automaker?
  • Who is responsible for an accident between a self-driving car and a human-driven car?

Related Articles


Raising the Bar

by John Fields

New York City-based powerhouse Block O’Toole & Murphy continues to set new benchmarks for personal injury cases, with the firm achieving landmark victories.

Five lawyers sit and stand posing for a photo


A Winning Approach

by John Fields

Recognized New York-based lawyer and trial legend Benedict Morelli, with his firm sharing the keys to their courtroom success, has developed a winning approach.

Three lawyers wearing suits pose for a picture


Precision in Practice

by John Fields

For four decades, the Perecman Firm's unwavering commitment to legal excellence has been crucial in securing victory for those facing life-altering injuries.

Three lawyers stand in NYC street posing for picture


Easton & Easton: Let Our Family Help Yours

by Justin Smulison

For more than 50 years, Easton & Easton have continued to be the go-to trial law firm for injury and wrongful death claims in Southern California in 2023.

Group of lawyers pose at table with globe in forefront

5 Things To Consider When Choosing a Car Accident Lawyer in Dallas, TX

by Jay Murray

Choosing the right car accident lawyer for your case in Dallas, Texas, is essential. Read this article to learn about 5 things to consider during the process.

Figure in suit checks off an animated list


Making A Meaningful Difference in Clients Lives

by Justin Smulison

Scarlett Law Group is hailed as one of California’s personal injury trailblazers, representing plaintiffs from all backgrounds. Here's the firm's recipe for success.

Three lawyers in suits pose in front of a bridge

Understanding Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury Cases

by Best Lawyers

In personal injury cases, the statute of limitations can vary depending on several factors. To navigate the process, consider hiring a legal professional.

Animated woman holding a clock and coin while balancing on plank

Why You Should Hire a Lawyer When Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit

by Best Lawyers

When filing personal injury claims, which is typically a complex and distressing process, consider consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney.

Unseen individual with hand brace points to a legal contract


What to Do if the Other Driver Doesn't Report the Accident

by Rick Lopez

Call 911 to report a car accident if the other driver refuses to report the car crash. Learn more about what to do after a car accident occurs in Texas here.

Unseen individual writing up report with cracked windshield in background


When the Result Means Everything

by Lyons & Simmons

Michael Lyons and Christopher Simmons, Texas-based trial attorneys and founders of the firm Lyons & Simmons, are dedicated to finding justice for their clients.

Two suited lawyers walk side by side while talking


This Man Can Protect You From Unsafe Trucks

by The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson

Texas-based listed lawyer Frank L. Branson has dedicated his legal career to helping consumers, representing the families and victims of serious truck accidents.

Suited man sits behind desk and writes on notepad

Your Fault or My Fault, It All Goes Through No-Fault

by Michael L. Taub

The No-Fault System, which helps victims receive payment for accident-related medical bills, does not always regard minor accidents on court dockets.

Man at steering wheel leaning forward grasping sore neck


Mastering the Art of Trial Practice

by John Fields

With its billion-dollar track record, Morelli Law Firm has earned a reputation as one of the country's most successful trial firms.

Morelli and team at table in office with windows


Salvi & Maher, LLP: Illinois and Wisconsin's Personal Injury Firm

by Justin Smulison

For more than 35 years, Salvi & Maher LLP has defended their clients throughout Illinois and Wisconsin in various areas of personal injury law, including medical malpractice, motor vehicle accidents, premises liability and trucking litigation.

Skyline of Chicago with green river and blue background


Emroch & Kilduff: Virginia's Personal Injury & Medical Malpractice Attorneys

by Emroch & Kilduff

For over 40 years, the award-winning Virginia-based firm Emroch & Kilduff has worked to represent their personal injury clients in both state and federal courts.

Skyline with water and bridge on blue background


Five Decades of Success

by Neil Dymott Attorneys

For over five decades, Neil Dymott Hudson, APLC has been dedicated to handling personal injury cases in San Diego, California.

shaking hands in light

Trending Articles

The 2024 Best Lawyers in Spain™

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is honored to announce the 16th edition of The Best Lawyers in Spain™ and the third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Spain™ for 2024.

Tall buildings and rushing traffic against clouds and sun in sky

Best Lawyers Expands Chilean 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is pleased to announce the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Chile™ and the inaugural edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Chile™, honoring the top lawyers and firms conferred on by their Chilean peers.

Landscape of city in Chile

The Best Lawyers in Spain™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Announcing Spain's recognized lawyers for 2023.

Flag of Spain

Announcing The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the landmark 15th edition of The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ for 2024, including the exclusive "Law Firm of the Year" awards.

Sky view of South Africa town and waterways

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

The Best Lawyers in Portugal™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

The 2024 awards for Portugal include the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Portugal™ and 2nd edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Portugal™.

City and beach with green water and blue sky

The Best Lawyers in Peru™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the landmark 10th edition of The Best Lawyers in Peru, the prestigious award recognizing the country's lop legal talent.

Landscape of Peru city with cliffside and ocean

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag

The Best Lawyers in Chile™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms in Chile.

White star in blue box beside white box with red box on bottom

The Best Lawyers in Colombia™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is honored to announce the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Colombia™ for 2024, which honors Colombia's most esteemed lawyers and law firms.

Cityscape of Colombia with blue cloudy sky above

Announcing the 2024 Best Lawyers in Puerto Rico™

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is proud to announce the 11th edition of The Best Lawyers in Puerto Rico™, honoring the top lawyers and firms across the country for 2024.

View of Puerto Rico city from the ocean

The 2023 Best Lawyers in Portugal™

by Best Lawyers

Announcing the elite group of lawyers recognized in Portugal for 2023.

Green and red Portuguese flag

Unwrapping Shrinkflation

by Justin Smulison

Through the lens of the United States, we take a closer look at the global implication of companies downsizing products while maintaining and often raising prices.

Chocolate bar being unwrapped from foil

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue

by Best Lawyers

The 2021 Global Issue features top legal talent from the most recent editions of Best Lawyers and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch worldwide.

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots