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


Results That Make a Difference

by John Fields

Thomas Moore and Judith Livingston continue to secure some of the largest verdicts in New York state for their injured clients.

Male and female lawyer in blue suits


Consequential Cases, Life-Changing Results

by John Fields

Best Lawyers honoree David Perecman on his firm’s commitment to helping the seriously injured.

Headshot of man in light blue suit standing outside


2022: Another Banner Year

by John Fields

Block O’Toole & Murphy continues to secure some of New York’s highest results for personal injury matters.

Three men in business suits standing in office

Fighting for Florida

by Justin Smulison

Three-time “Lawyer Of The Year”* Steve Yerrid reflects on how South Florida was the setting for some of his most memorable trials.

Headshot of man with dark suit and red tie outside in front of fountain

A Roadmap for Safety in D.C.

by Justin Smulison

Three-time “Lawyer of The Year” Patrick Regan explains how we can protect cyclists from injury and the city from more litigation.

Several lawyers sitting and standing in a group in office

Unwavering Dedication to Clients

by Best Lawyers

Trial attorneys Michael Lyons and Chris Simmons find motivation when the result means everything.

Trial Attorneys at Lyons & Simmons

Dan Sciano Renaissance Lawyer

by Justin Smulison

Tinsman & Sciano recently celebrated 50 years as greater San Antonio’s leading trial law firm for civil litigation and personal injury. Daniel J.T. Sciano obtained judgments for his clients in both Federal and State courthouses in 2021. A trial lawyer with many talents and diverse knowledge of the law.

Tinsman & Sciano Celebrates 50

Texas' Best Lawyers 2022

by Best Lawyers

Our Texas' Best Lawyers 2022 publication features top-ranked legal talent in Texas.

Texas' Best Lawyers 2022

Aim High and Fly

by Khalil Abdullah

From a silent victim of hometown segregation to Air Force captain and lawyer of consummate skill, Karen Evans exemplifies leadership—and vows always to help those who seek to follow her path.

Karen Evans' Leadership in the Airforce

Kelley|Uustal: A Firm Like No Other

by Kelley|Uustal

Florida firm Kelley|Uustal navigates the importance of client representation and the hard-fought personal injury battles that the firm has taken on over the years.

Catastrophic Injury and Wrongful Death Firm

New England's Best Lawyers 2022

by Best Lawyers

Our New England's Best Lawyers 2022 publication features top-ranked legal talent in New England.

New England's Best Lawyers 2022

Mind Matters: The Importance of Diagnosing TBIs in PI Cases

by Bobby Saadian

Many lawyers fail to identify and diagnose traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in personal injury disputes. But it can be critical to your case—and render any potential settlement or award far more advantageous for your client.

Representing Traumatic Brain Injury Clients

Crash Course

by Paige Cerulli

A bad car accident left me reeling, but my worst symptoms wouldn’t appear until two weeks after. If it weren’t for excellent legal representation, there’s no way I’d have made it through—or with anything close to the settlement I got.

Overlooked by EMTs After Car Crash

What Will a Car Accident Lawyer Actually Do for You?

by Jacob Oresky

A car accident lawyer provides many services while working on your injury case. Learn about the process for injury claims and the lawyer’s role in the process.

Car Accident Lawyer Services

How Being a Client Almost Made Me Quit Law School

by Paula Birch Billingsley

Suddenly becoming a personal injury client gave one law school student a new appreciation for clients’ needs and concerns. Here are some considerations even experienced lawyers ought to keep in mind.

Personal Injury Client Almost Quit Law School

Wax On, Wax Off

by Aria Gmitter

An unfortunate episode with a rogue body waxer left me itching like mad, in pain and wondering what sort of recourse I might have. A journey through the hairy underbelly of a sometimes dicey industry.

Legal Action After Waxing Salon Burns

Trending Articles

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

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

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

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

South African flag

Could Reign Supreme End with the Queen?

by Sara Collin

Canada is revisiting the notion of abolishing the monarchy after Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, but many Canadians and lawmakers are questioning if Canada could, should and would follow through.

Teacup on saucer over image of Queen's eye


2022: Another Banner Year

by John Fields

Block O’Toole & Murphy continues to secure some of New York’s highest results for personal injury matters.

Three men in business suits standing in office

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some

by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

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

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers

by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Thirteen Years of Excellence

by Best Lawyers

For the 13th consecutive year, “Best Law Firms” has awarded the most elite and talented law firms across the country through a thorough and trusted data review process.

Red, white and blue pipes and writing on black background

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect

by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

Caffeine Overload and DUI Tests

by Daniel Taylor

While it might come as a surprise, the over-consumption of caffeine could trigger a false positive on a breathalyzer test.

Can Caffeine Cause You to Fail DUI Test?

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Australia.

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Germany™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Germany.

Black, red and yellow stripes