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Can autonomous cars be safer than human-driven cars?

Washington State residents may soon share the road with autonomous vehicles but will that necessarily make them safer?

It seems that the pace of development of autonomous vehicles is increasing rapidly. That may be in part a reflection on how quickly technology itself is advancing and while this is nothing unusual to Washington State residents as they live in one of the country's technology hotbeds, they may likely have a lot of questions about these vehicles and their safety. Will or can self-driving cars actually reduce accidents and improve safety on the roads?

Elimination of crashes a stated goal

In its 2018 Self-Driving Safety Report, General Motors points out that research attributes 94 percent of vehicle crashes to human error. It further states its goal in developing self-driving cars is to eliminate these crashes as well as congestion and emissions.

Throughout the report, GM highlights the technology it is using in its autonomous vehicles including systems designed essentially as backups for initial systems in the event those initial systems fail to operate properly or accurate identify an object, for example.

Liability in autonomous vehicle crashes uncertain

According to USA Today, there is no standard or understood way of assigning liability to a crash involving an autonomous vehicle just yet. What is identified is a classification for levels of autonomy in a vehicle.

A fully human-operated vehicle is identified at a level zero and a fully autonomous vehicle is at a level five. Even an accident with a vehicle at a level three is considered able to have liability associated with the human. It is unsure where liability may fall if the vehicle's autonomy level is at four or five.

Wired magazine explains that the recent fatal crash involving an Uber car in Arizona has people disputing whether or not the vehicle should have noticed the pedestrian. Video appears to show the human driver as not paying attention to the road. Would fault lie with the human driver who did not take over control of the vehicle, with Uber, with some manufacturer of a particular system in the vehicle or someone else? These are questions not yet answered.

Regulatory oversight largely missing

The San Francisco Chronicle explains that to date the federal government has remained largely out of the picture when it comes to creating regulations that govern the emerging self-driving vehicle industry. As such, states are left to their own devices. This may well result in a patchwork of laws that may make it difficult for automakers to build cars that meet all of the various laws.

People should not be testing subjects

While self-driving vehicle technology is still in a test phase in many ways, Washington residents should not need to feel like they are the test subjects. Human lives and safety matters, making it important that people involved in a crash contact an attorney for help in seeking compensation and protecting their rights.