Self-driving cars may be the future. But just how safe are they?
Self-driving cars may have seemed like a fantasy only a few years ago. But car manufacturers are getting closer to putting the technology out on the roads. But just how safe are self-driving cars?
A subsidiary of General Motors unveiled a prototype for what it calls the car of the future. The Cruise Origin is an all-electric and fully self-driving car. It is so autonomous that it won’t have a steering wheel or gas pedal – an aspect that frightens automotive consumer advocate Michael Sacks.
“So, something goes wrong – what am I going to do? Jump out? Is there an eject button? Am I getting an eject button? I mean, this is scary,” Sack says.
Scary or not, car manufacturers seem to be increasingly betting on self-driving technology becoming the norm. Ford is road-testing its self-driving vehicle, while Tesla says that every car that comes off its assembly line will now include full self-driving hardware.
And the technology is popping up across the country. Waymo, a self-driving ride-share service in Arizona, will start sending some vehicles with no drivers. Customers can opt out if they want. Stamford, Connecticut, officials recently announced plans for a self-driving shuttle.
“It’s very simple. All right-hand turns, which autonomous vehicles do very, very well,” says Stamford Economic Development Director Thomas Madden. “It’s left-hand turns they have a little problem with.”
But sometimes these problems are not so little. There have been numerous fatalities involving Tesla cars on autopilot – including three last month alone.
“There are always glitches in these new technologies. And not just when these new technologies first come out. They are always looking to improve these new technologies, to make it more efficient,” says Sacks. “So, as they improve it, there’s more room for error.”
Most experts say that it is inevitable that self-driving cars will eventually be safer than human drivers; after all robots don’t get distracted or drink too much. But they say that the technology will likely get phased in, starting with very simple routes.
They also say that the days of fully autonomous cars may still be years away.