According to data on car accidents, the number of crashes nationwide in 2010 hit a 20-year low. But there is evidence that figure could go even lower in the future. Approximately 9 out of every 10 motor vehicle accidents are attributable to mistakes in human perception, incorrect choices and lapses in attention. How many fewer collisions would we have if we removed a human from the driver’s seat?
That is the question asked by engineers and designers who are working on creating a fully functioning automated car. While the human brain is very adept at processing the spatial relationships necessary for successful driving, it is prone to errors in judgment, distraction and the stupefying effects of drugs and alcohol. A computer, on the other hand, would not get pulled over for a DUI or become distracted by a cellphone call.
Despite the potential benefits and improvements in safety, many people are reportedly reluctant to ride in a car controlled by a computer. Some enjoy the thrill of driving, others may become anxious about ceding control to a machine and still others believe their driving is safe enough not to warrant a computer-guided car. Psychologists have a message for those in the last group, however. Studies show that people overestimate their driving skills, thinking they are safer and more cautious than they in fact are.
Some people involved with self-driving cars believe that they will become the norm within a matter of decades. Technology is already being developed that would allow cars to communicate with each other and respond quickly and efficiently to continuously changing road conditions. Some see this development as a natural extension of some of the accident avoidance technology we already have in place, such as back-up cameras, blind spot warning systems, lane departure monitoring devices and automatic braking.
The question remains whether computers will be safer than we are behind the wheel, and only time will provide an answer.
Source: BBC News, “Will driverless cars mean computer crashes?” Alex Hudson, Oct. 1, 2012