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Automation may not eliminate motor vehicle accidents

Some proponents of self-driving vehicles argue it will put auto insurance companies out of business because it will all but eliminate motor vehicle accidents. The thinking is that human error plays a role in almost every crash, and once we remove the human element from vehicle navigation, accidents will be something that millennials will have to explain to their grandchildren much like VHS tapes and printed road maps.

It’s not that simple, states a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In fact, autonomous vehicles may prevent only about one-third of all crashes.

Driver error may not be the primary cause of all crashes, but according to a national survey of police-reported motor vehicle accidents, it is the “final failure” in the chain of events leading up to nine out of 10 accidents. Analysis by the IIHS suggests that only about one-third of those would be avoided as a result of the improved perception that comes with self-driving technology.

What’s Behind The Numbers?

IIHS analysts determined that driver errors that lead to accidents can be separated into five categories. They report that self-driving technology could only significantly reduce accidents caused by two of those categories – “sensing and perceiving” and incapacitation (drunk driving, falling asleep at the wheel, medical problems, etc.) Those two categories combined account for approximately 34% of all accidents.

The remaining two-thirds of accidents may still occur unless autonomous vehicles are specifically programmed to avoid other types of decision-making and performance errors that lead to crashes, such as speeding and illegal maneuvers made for convenience.

In other words, in order to increase safety on the road, self-driving vehicles will have to be programmed to focus on safety by overriding operator preferences such as rate of speed. Can you imagine Tesla owners, who pay $55,000 and up for vehicles that tout an acceleration rate of zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, acquiescing to an automated program that will dictate the safest speed for the vehicle to travel?

Autonomous vehicles may improve the safety of our highways and city streets, but accidents that cause serious injuries will not likely become a thing of the past. If you a loved one is injured in a motor vehicle accident, a personal injury attorney can work to maximize the full amount you recover for medical costs, lost wages and more.