Autonomous car makers dispute insurance study’s low estimate of crashes

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Companies working on self-driving vehicles have criticized an insurance industry study suggesting that only a third of all U.S. road crashes could be prevented by driverless cars, arguing that the study has underestimated the technology’s capabilities.

The study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), released on Thursday, analyzed 5,000 U.S. crashes and concluded that likely only those caused by driver perception errors and incapacitation could be prevented by self-driving cars.

The autonomous vehicle industry quickly responded that its cars were programmed to prevent a vastly higher number of potential crash causes, including more complex errors caused by drivers making inadequate or incorrect evasive maneuvers.

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Self-driving cars won’t eradicate the car crash, study says

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While self-driving cars won’t get distracted or drive drunk, that only accounts for a third of wrecks that occur, according to the insurance industry.

Self-driving cars likely have a long, long way to go.

In a blow to hopes for a future free of car crashes with the coming of self-driving cars, a study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows totally driverless cars would have a difficult time achieving such a goal.

The IIHS looked at more than 5,000 police-reported crashes from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, which the insurance industry-funded group said represents vehicle crashes that resulted in one car towed and required emergency medical services.

Combing through the files, the IIHS then sorted the crashes into five categories: sensing and perception; predicting; planning and deciding; execution and performance; and incapacitation errors. Self-driving cars will be able to eliminate sensing and perception errors, or crashes that result in the driver’s distraction, and autonomous technologies won’t be subject to the influence of drugs or alcohol. So, that takes incapacitation errors out. From the sample, that accounts for 34% of crashes. Let’s note the figure is not an insignificant number of crashes automated cars could prevent — 2 million a year in the US alone.

“It’s likely that fully self-driving cars will eventually identify hazards better than people,” said Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research, “but we found that this alone would not prevent the bulk of crashes.”

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