Semi-Faulty Driverless Cars Can Save Thousands of Lives, According to RAND Researchers

Semi-Faulty Driverless Cars Can Save Thousands of Lives, According to RAND Researchers

Author: Michael Cheng   

How flawless does an autonomous driving platform have to be before it can be deployed in public roads? 

The answer to this question strongly depends on the driving standard being applied. When paired against a human driver, self-driving cars only have to be better than humans in order for the units to save lives and positively impact urban communities. According to a recently published RAND Corporation report (The Enemy of Good, Estimating the Cost of Waiting for Nearly Perfect Automated Vehicles), imperfect driverless vehicles could be suitable for daily transportation.

Considering there were roughly 40,000 fatal car accidents in 2016 – a six percent increase from the year before (based on data from the National Safety Council), the current driving standard wouldn't be difficult to surpass for cutting-edge machines. Before the units are released to commercial markets, they would've accumulated millions of miles on closed test sites, public trials and virtual driving stimulators.

Saving Human Lives Faster

In the report, RAND researchers highlighted that when a driverless car with driving capabilities slightly better than a human is on the road, it can save lives resulting in safer commutes. Furthermore, to delay and wait for the development of ‘perfect' autonomous driving platforms could lead to more lives lost.

To solidify their findings, researchers tested up to 500 driving scenarios involving self-driving cars. The trials showed the vehicles can save countless lives in both short-term and long-term (over the span of 30 years) timeframes. To arrive at such conclusions, two models were applied: one with autonomous cars 10 percent better than humans, while the other model made use of autonomous vehicles with driving capabilities up to 90 percent better than human drivers.

The results indicate that the adoption of self-driving cars heavily relies on awareness and acceptance, and not so much on the flawlessness of autonomous driving platforms. From a logical perspective, humans should not fear a driverless car that is less prone to committing fatal errors, fully engaged on the road (never intoxicated or distracted) and can outperform human drivers.

"There will be a horrific crash, not long after the [driverless] vehicles are introduced, because automobiles crash a lot," said David Groves, Senior Policy Researcher at RAND Corporation. "We are so numb and tolerant of the crashes that occur by the thousands all around us every year."

Starting with Commercial Vehicles

In order for people to accept autonomous vehicles, they must experience them firsthand. This is why some countries facilitating driverless trials in cities are encouraging public participants. For example, in Japan, a trial involving a self-driving shuttle was intentionally deployed in rural communities, serving senior citizens.

On the other side of the world, Navya, a Paris-based startup that focuses on driverless transportation technology, successfully launched a self-driving bus trial in Las Vegas to accommodate tourists in the commercial area.

"By giving people access to a fleet of vehicles, rather than starting with a personal ownership model, more people will be able to experience this technology, sooner," said Waymo in a blog post. 

Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng is a legal editor and technical writer with publications for Blackberry ISHN Magazine Houzz and Payment Week. He specializes in technology business and digesting hard data. Outside of work Michael likes to train for marathons spend time with his daughter and explore new places.
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