The Impact of Self-Driving Cars on Accident Statistics

Are self-driving cars causing more destruction than they’re worth? Learn how car accident statistics are tied to autonomous cars.

As of 2021, fully self-driving cars are not available for consumer purchase, although they are currently being developed by automakers like Waymo and Tesla. However, numerous related technologies, such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning are common additions to new vehicles sold in the U.S.

While one of the goals of autonomous vehicles is to reduce car crashes, safety concerns regarding driverless cars gained national attention in March of 2018. A self-driving Uber test car struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was walking with her bicycle on the street in Tempe, Arizona.

The test vehicle, a Volvo SUV, was driving in autonomous mode with a human safety driver behind the wheel at the time of the crash. The Tempe police reported that the evidence showed that the vehicle was traveling around 40 miles per hour and did not slow down before the impact.

As a result of this tragic accident, Uber suspended the testing it was conducting in Tempe, Pittsburgh,  San Francisco, and Toronto. The incident was an unsettling reminder that self-driving technology is still in the research and development stage. In fact, it will likely be decades before fully-automated vehicles are on the road.

This article will review facts and statistics about the future trajectory of self-driving cars and the positive impact their proponents expect them to have on our world.

Notable Statistics:

  • Self-driving cars will progress through six levels of driving automation that range from no automation (level 0) to total automation (level 5).
  • Because 94% of serious car accidents are caused by human error, self-driving car proponents believe that removing the human driver will save many lives.
  • In 2014, drivers spent 6.9 billion hours in traffic delays, but driverless cars could eliminate up to 50 minutes a day in driving time.
  • Self-driving vehicles could allow approximately 2 million people with disabilities to find new employment opportunities.

The Levels of Automation

While fully-autonomous vehicles were once no more than science-fiction, today it is widely accepted that entirely self-driven cars will eventually become a reality in stages. The Society of Automotive Engineers has outlined six levels of driving automation that range from no automation at level 0 to total automation at level 5.Levels of Driving AutomationHere are the levels of automation:

  • Level 0 — No automation. The human driver does it all.
  • Level 1 — An Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) will sometimes assist the human driver with steering, braking, or accelerating, but not at the same time.
  • Level 2 — While the ADAS can simultaneously control steering, braking, and accelerating in some situations, the human driver must continue to pay attention and perform other driving functions.
  • Level 3 — An Automated Driving System (ADS) can perform every driving function in some situations. Still, the human driver must be ready to retake control at any time when the ADS is driving.
  • Level 4 — The ADS can perform every driving function and monitor the road in some situations, and the human driver does not need to pay attention during those times.
  • Level 5 —The ADS can do all of the driving in every situation. No human driver is required.

While some cars on the road today include Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, vehicles with Automated Driving Systems remain a goal for future progress.

Advantages of Self-Driving Cars

As vehicle automation technologies progress and self-driving cars become available for consumer purchase, proponents believe they will create a marked improvement in several aspects of society.Advantages of self driving cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified four primary advantages of autonomous cars:

  • Safety
  • Economic and societal benefits
  • Efficiency and convenience
  • Mobility

Let’s discuss these benefits and explore some of the statistics that show the impact automation could have on our society.

Driverless Cars Can Reduce Car Accidents

94% of car accidents caused by human error

Automated vehicles are anticipated to greatly improve the safety of our roadways. According to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, 36,560 people died from motor vehicle crashes in 2018. While this number slightly decreased in 2019, there were still just over 36,000 traffic fatalities.

Because NHTSA reports that 94% of serious car accidents are caused by human error, proponents believe that self-driving vehicles have the potential to save a tremendous amount of lives by simply taking human drivers, and the poor decisions they make, out of the equation.

Advances in technology could also provide economic benefits to the U.S. For example, car crashes in 2010 cost $242 billion in economic activity and $594 billion in decreased quality of life and lives lost. Self-driving vehicles could drastically reduce this loss by decreasing the number of accidents.

Autonomous Cars Are More Efficient

Proponents also argue that automated vehicles will help us spend less time on the road. In 2014, American drivers spent an estimated 6.9 billion hours in traffic delays. On top of the time lost, congested traffic increases fuel costs and vehicle emissions.

Driverless cars benefit time and productivity

A recent study determined that driverless cars could eliminate up to 50 minutes a day in driving time, indicating that autonomous vehicles could save time and money and even reduce the environmental impact of motor vehicles. This extra time could increase productivity or just allow people to spend more time with friends and families.

Automated vehicles may also increase productivity by providing new transportation choices to millions of Americans with limited mobility options. For example, self-driving vehicles could prove life-changing for the 49 million Americans over the age of 65, as well as the 53 million people who have some form of disability.

The opportunity to obtain employment or live independently is often dependent on an individual’s ability to drive. Elderly adults who can otherwise take care of themselves but are unable to drive a traditional vehicle may be able to stay on their own for longer with a driverless car.

Similarly, people whose disabilities prevent them from driving themselves may be able to find new independence through automated vehicles. In fact, one study even reports that self-driving vehicles could allow approximately 2 million people with disabilities to find new employment opportunities.

While self-driving cars have the potential to make the roads a safer place, for now, car crashes will continue to occur every day. If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. The first step is to schedule a no-obligation consultation with a local personal injury attorney.

Amy Grover is a licensed attorney in the state of Ohio. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, then passing the bar exam in 2014, Amy began her diverse career as a practicing attorney. Amy has a range of experience in the legal field, including work with the Department... Read More >>