How Safe Are Self-Driving Cars?

October 20, 2021

Self-driving vehicles appear to be poised to assume a commonplace role on our roadways. The designations “self-driving vehicles, also known as “driverless” or “autonomous” vehicles, are often used interchangeably, but there are some important distinctions.

If you have been injured in an accident with a self-driving car, it’s best to contact an experienced Allentown car accident lawyer at Drake, Hileman & Davis for help with your claims, as the technology is shifting rapidly and new laws may be needed for the legal system to catch up with the technology.

How Much Actual “Driving” Does a Self-Driving Car Do?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has designated six levels of autonomy to driver-assisted technology:

  1. Level 0. A human driver does all the driving
  2. Level 1. An advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) can sometimes assist the human driver with either steering or braking and accelerating, but not both simultaneously.
  3. Level 2. An ADAS can actually control both steering and braking/accelerating simultaneously on its own under some circumstances. The human driver must continue to pay full attention at all times and perform the rest of the driving tasks.
  4. Level 3. An automated driving system (ADS) on the vehicle can itself perform all aspects of driving under certain circumstances. The human driver must be ready to take back control at any time when the ADS requests the human driver to do so.
  5. Level 4. An ADS can itself perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment; in other words, do all the driving under certain circumstances. Humans need not pay attention in those circumstances.
  6. Level 5. An ADS can do all the driving in all circumstances. The human occupants are just passengers and need never be involved in driving.

According to the NHTSA, technology is currently in Level 4.

How Safe Are Self-Driving Cars in Their Current State of Technology?

Despite self-driving manufacturers’ claims, self-driving cars currently have a higher rate of accidents than human-driven cars, but the injuries tend to be less severe. According to the National Law Review, some of the more serious safety risks include:

  • Real-life driving conditions. The standard engineering approach to improving safety, which is to build in more warnings and safety mechanisms, fails because these systems are too complex, providing more opportunities for failure. 
  • Lack of self-driving regulations. This is an issue that plagues new technology of any type: the law always lags behind technology. In the case of self-driving cars, this means that manufacturers are left to make safety decisions on their own, which directly conflicts with their focus on profits.
  • Imperfect technology. In 2020, according to AAA, vehicles with driving assistance systems in real-world driving experienced some type of issue on the average of every eight miles, and systems that combine braking and steering with vehicle acceleration often disengage with little notice, requiring immediate driver intervention.
  • A false sense of security. The common marketing theme is that self-driving cars are “driverless.” This message tends to cause drivers to act like passengers rather than drivers. The marketing message is misleading, and most accidents involving “driverless” cars have been the result of human drivers feeling safe when distracted.
  • The danger of fire. Lithium-Ion (LI) batteries are highly combustible, and as lithium burns, it creates a metal fire with temperatures that reach 3,632 degrees Fahrenheit. Attempting to douse the fire with water could lead to a hydrogen gas explosion. Several examples of this dangerous condition are cited by The National Law Review.
  • Cyber attacks. Hacker cyber attacks are a very real threat. For example, hackers were able to access a car’s braking and steering through the onboard entertainment system, take control of a vehicle and stop it suddenly while driving at 70 m.p.h.

An Allentown Car Accident Lawyer Can Help You Understand the Dangers of Self-Driving Cars

The laws surrounding self-driving vehicles have yet to implement all of the necessary safety rules. If you have been involved in a self-driving car accident, an Allentown car accident lawyer at Drake, Hileman & Davis can help you sort through the liability of the various parties involved and recover your damages. For a free consultation, contact us today.