Unfortunately, it’s too soon to tell.
Driverless cars have claimed their first pedestrian fatality. A woman in Tempe, Ariz was struck and killed by an Uber driverless car. These driverless cars are supposed to be safer than cars with a human driver. Maybe the argument is appealing, but unfortunately, it is wrong. Car fatalities are measured in terms of “vehicle miles traveled,” In 2016, the fatality rate was 1.18 for every 100 million miles that Americans drove. That year Americans drove nearly 3.2 trillion miles, but it still added up to tens of thousands of deaths. To decide whether driverless cars are safer than the traditional kind, we have to see how many miles they traveled before this first fatality. But sadly the result is “fewer than 100 million” even a lot fewer.
The industry leader Waymo recently reported logging its 4 millionth mile of road travel. Uber just reached only 2 million miles with its autonomous program, which is a lot lower than the 100 million records. Many other companies are developing these fully autonomous systems, but adding them all together couldn’t get us even close to 100 million records.
We can’t say that we should pull the plug on autonomous driving. We know that regular old cars were not too safe for people when they first arrived on roads. The data is available that in 1921, in the first year of cars there were 24 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. But over time, improved cars now reduced that figure by nearly 95 percent. That means driverless cars can also improve.
There are also some other benefits, driverless cars worth working for those improvements. Suppose an elderly forced to leave their homes but he/she can no longer drive anymore, the person whose disabilities makes it hard to operate a car, the drunks who drive because there is no other way to get home. Driverless cars can solve these major problems.
Even after the temporary cost of some road safety now, we can give the autonomous system some time to improve and develop. We can’t compare how dangerous driverless cars are from a human driver’s car until they have driven billions of more miles.
At the moment, we can just only say that they can kill people, but we can’t say how often they will. And there is a possibility, self-driving cars can be prepared for the public better. Uber has already pulled off its driverless cars in response to this tragedy. But one day maybe these driverless cars can be safer than the human driver’s car if they develop and advance further.