Are Self-Driving Cars Really Safe?

A recent collision involving a self-driving Volvo SUV run by Uber and a woman driving a Honda CRV in Tempe, Arizona brought to light the potential dangers in self-driving vehicles.

The woman driving the Honda was cited for failing to yield the right of way, but the question remains: are self-driving vehicles inherently dangerous? While self-driving vehicles could improve the mobility of people who don’t or can’t currently drive, there are larger questions to consider. Do we really want vehicles that rely on cameras and advanced GPS systems sharing our roads and highways with us as we commute to work and school every day? And what about the autonomous driving option in our own cars and trucks, which is sure to happen in the coming years. Can we trust ourselves to use this new tech feature safely when many of us already can’t resist the urge to text and drive right now?

Here are some dangers of self-driving vehicles to consider, according to a Yahoo Finance article.

SDV passengers can expect to get more motion sickness.

As much as 37 percent of adult passengers in self-driving vehicles will experience an increase in the frequency and severity of motion sickness, according to a study published by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. The reasons: People in self-driving vehicles will be reading, texting, watching movies, working or playing video games in the vehicle instead of driving and focusing on the road ahead.

Road safety and accident rates will likely worsen before improving.

When self-driving vehicles start sharing the roads with conventional people-driven vehicles in greater numbers in the years to come, the risk of accidents for conventional vehicles will likely become elevated, according to the Sivak and Schoettle study. They found that SDVs may not be able to avoid crashes that aren’t caused by drivers prompting the authors to write, “It is not a foregone conclusion that a self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced, middle-aged driver.”

Hackers could highjack self-driving vehicles and remotely control them.

As our vehicles become more technologically connected, the possibility of them being hacked and used for criminal purposes increases, according to a report published by British bank Lloyds. For example, hackers could access personal data such as the location of a person, and where they typically drive every day, potentially indicating to a burglar that someone isn’t home. There is also potential for cyber terrorism. For example, a large-scale immobilization of cars on public roads could throw a country into chaos, added Lloyds.

Terrorists could take over SDVs as lethal weapons.

Hackers could also take over self-driving vehicles and use them as lethal weapons, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation warned. In a nightmare scenario, terrorists could program explosive-packed cars to become self-driving bombs, or a self-driving vehicle could be programmed to drive a getaway while criminals in the car could use their free hands to shoot at pursuers.

Majority of people shun self-driving vehicles

According to the second annual survey conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, almost half of motorists shun self-driving cars, with almost half saying they’d rather drive themselves.

Researchers Schoettle and Sivak received 618 responses from licensed drivers 18 or older via Survey Monkey. A similar study done in 2014 found many of the same reservations among consumers.

Given the choice among three levels of automation in a future vehicle — no self-driving, partial self-driving and complete self-driving the percentage of respondents who said they would prefer no self-driving technology actually rose slightly to 46 percent from 44 percent last year. Slightly fewer people this year said they’d be OK with partial autonomy (38.7 percent) than last year (40.6 percent).

Almost all, 94.5 percent are not comfortable being in a car that doesn’t have a steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator because it is self-driving. Women were slightly more resistant than men to any autonomous features, as 48.4 percent of women said they want no self-driving capability compared with 43.1 percent of men.

Schoettle said he doesn’t expect Uber, Google, Apple or any traditional automakers to slow their efforts to achieve safe, but totally autonomous vehicles, but surveys like this can tell them what features people want or don’t want.

Source: Yahoo finance, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute