The Truth About Self-Driving Car Safety

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94% of car accidents are the result of human errors like distractions and drunk driving. The central goal of the self-driving car industry is to invent technology that significantly reduces the amount of car crashes. Data gathered on car accidents in 2013 shows that there are, on average, over two million auto-related injuries and over 30,000 deaths on highways. In such cases, fault may not be clear ( Self-driving cars appear to be the safe alternative, but much work still needs to be done in this field to make it ideal for replacing the human driver.

Testing the safety of self-driving cars

Automated cars eliminate many types of human error. For example, if the car is driving, the person behind the wheel can’t really drive drunk. However, these automated vehicles can’t be tested enough hours to properly compare their effectiveness with those driven by humans.

Gathering adequate information would require (at minimum) decades of research. It would take millions of logged miles to even begin to draw proper conclusions about the safety of these cars. Currently, only a little over a million of these miles have been logged.

Benefits and errors in self-driving technologies

The Truth About Self-Driving Car Safety

Researchers from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute analyzed data from 2013 and 2015, and they concluded that automated vehicles are five times more likely to be in accidents as human-driven cars.

Since the project began, over a dozen accidents have been reported. Reportedly, none of these accidents were a direct result of the faultiness of the cars; all were caused by the error of humans. (Most of these accidents were rear-end collisions experienced in slow traffic.) However, over a dozen reports have been made concerning human drivers preventing car accidents by manually overriding the self-driving features.

First reported fatal car accident

One of these self-driving vehicles was in an accident that did prove fatal to the person behind the wheel. On May 7, 2016, Joshua Brown, an avid supporter of the automated car industry, died after the car failed to apply the brakes. Apparently, the autopilot mode on the Tesla Model S electric sedan couldn’t differentiate the white of a tractor-trailer from the light of the sky. Mistakes like this shed doubt on the supposed effectiveness of the self-driving car industry.


Car technology is advancing rapidly, but perhaps not rapidly enough for the mass production and release of these automated vehicles. Although this technology eliminates human error, it opens the door for other safety issues. Research in this field is still needed to properly diagnose and fix the problems with self-driving cars.