Amid continuing debate over the development and regulation of self-driving vehicles in the U.S., new research suggests that rolling out of autonomous vehicles on public roadways in the current state of the technology would help avoid thousands of traffic fatalities that will occur while waiting to perfect federal safety standards.
According to a new self-driving vehicles study released this week by the nonprofit organization RAND, delaying the use of self-driving technology on roadways and highways in the United States could result in a large number of auto accident deaths that could be preventable.
The research was released during a policy review by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Congress, which are working to determine when federal safety officials should allow autonomous vehicles (AVs), or self-driving vehicles, on the roads.
Trying to determine how safe self-driving cars should be before they are widely allowed to be driven on public roadways, researchers looked at crash data and projected injury and fatality rates for upcoming years. They found that the sooner self-driving vehicles are released, the better.
“We can’t stand idly by while we wait for the perfect,” Mark Rosekind, head of the NHTSA said at a symposium in 2016. “If we wait for perfect, we’ll be waiting for a very, very long time. How many lives might we be losing if we wait?”
The team of researchers produced estimated crash and fatality rates across three separate scenarios, based on when self-driving vehicle technology was released. The scenarios included a quick adoption of self-driving cars when they are initially 10 percent better than human drivers, delaying the rollout of autonomous vehicles until they are 75 percent better than human drivers, and delaying the rollout of self-driving cars until they are 90 percent better.
The projected outcomes from all three scenarios indicated that rapid introduction of self-driving vehicles on public roadways would save thousands of lives over the next 15 years, and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives over the next three decades.
New federal guidance, A Vision for Safety 2.0, was released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the NHTSA on September 12, providing recommendations for the automotive industry and States to follow while developing the evolving technologies used in self-driving vehicles.
The guidance provides support and regulatory cover to help automotive companies develop autonomous driving technologies that are designed to prevent human-error accidents such as crashes caused by lane departures and failure to brake, which make up the majority of auto accidents.
The Vision for Safety 2.0 indicates an estimated 94% of automobile accidents are caused or contributed to by human error that could be preventable once proper self-driving technologies such as lane departure, automatic braking, and various others are sufficient for use.
Autonomous vehicle technologies that could prevent drivers from veering off of the road could save thousands of pedestrian and bicyclists lives annually, and could also prevent collisions from vehicles drifting into oncoming traffic due to distracted driving, such as texting.