There is a hot debate among car lovers and it has to do with autonomous vehicles. Some people consider that autonomous vehicles are not yet safe enough to be on the streets, while others think that such vehicles are much better than human drivers and they could prevent all accidents. The dream of building driverless cars started around 1925 when Francis Houdina came up with a car that is remotely controlled.

A few years later, John McCarthy describes how computers might be able to control cars. Today, everyone knows a little about Tesla and their Model S, which has a self-driving mode. McCarthy’s predictions finally became true. On a totally different note, the first modern autonomous car generated a tragic event that triggered various opinions – the first driverless car fatality. Continue reading to learn more about this topic.

What autonomous really means?

Terms such as self-driving or autonomous have very broad definitions. Some people may believe that all vehicles called autonomous can drive themselves on the streets. In fact, that is not true. Specialists from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) came up with a scale to define each level of automation. There are two versions of this scale: one from 2014 and one from 2016. 

The five levels included on the list provided by SAE describe what a vehicle should be capable of doing to fit in that category. Each level has a short description that includes details related to steering/acceleration execution, driving environment monitoring, fall-back performance, and driving modes. Here is a short presentation of each:

  • 0: No Automation. This level involves full interaction from the human driver.
  • 1: Driver Assistance. This level involves vehicles that have one or more driver modes that offer the human driver assistance with the steering OR acceleration, but the driver still has to perform the dynamic driving task integrally.
  • 2: Partial Automation. Unlike level 1 vehicles, level 2 vehicles offer driver assistance for BOTH steering and acceleration. Again, the dynamic driving task is performed by the driver.
  • 3: Conditional automation. Level 3 vehicles can execute steering/acceleration and they can also monitor the driving environment, yet the dynamic driving task requires a human driver to answer to intervention requests.
  • 4: High Automation. Level 4 vehicles have only SOME driving modes that involve an automated driving system that covers all aspects of the dynamic driving task.
  • 5: Full Automation. On the other hand, level 5 vehicles involve full-time automated driving performance. All driving modes are automated, as well as all aspects of the dynamic driving task.

Traffic collision occurrence: the statistics

self driving cars

According to several reports created by the UK’s Government Actuary’s Department, the use of self-driving, connected vehicles would be beneficial, as most road accidents are somehow related to an error performed by the driver. This – among many others – is the reason why the UK government encourages developing this type of technology.

In 2016, the number of casualties in the UK reached almost 190,000, from which almost 1800 led to death. 46% of the total number of casualties are represented by drivers, while the rest are pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists. The number of deaths by a traffic collision is currently declining.

As for autonomous vehicle traffic collision, there were a few reports created by the government of California, more precisely by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In 2019, 133 collisions were declared. A fatal crash took place in Arizona, where a woman was killed by a self-driving Uber car.

According to the Society of Motor Traders & Manufacturers (SMMT), the traffic collision overall number reduced with around 10% since advanced autonomous safety systems and cars entered the market.

Approximately 500 UK people participated in a survey. 57% of the respondents considered that they would be very concerned if they would drive a level 4 autonomous car. Only 15% of them said that they wouldn’t be concerned. China or Japan seems to be more open to the idea of adopting autonomous driving.

Is insurance still required?

One question tends to pop up in people’s heads when they hear about autonomous vehicles, and it has to do with insurance. Currently, everyone is constantly looking for no deposit car insurance because they don’t want to put their vehicles or themselves at risk. For regular, human driver cars, insurance is a must and all people must invest in it. But what happens when autonomous vehicles start being more numerous than the others?

Well, insurance will still be required for sure, considering that autonomous cars are not exactly the cheapest ones on the market. No buyer would risk spending a lot of money on a car and not invest in insurance.

Insurance companies will definitely come up with packages that cover the needs that autonomous vehicles imply, just as in the case of human driver ones. The risk of traffic collision should be reduced as well, which means that insurance rates might not be as high as people expect since the occurrence of car crashes will be lower.

Reducing traffic collision fatalities to zero

girl at driving seat in an autonomous car

The ultimate goal of autonomous vehicles and the improvement of technology in the automotive sector is to completely eliminate traffic collision fatalities. This is the main reason why so many resources are invested in this sector.

Even public transportation is meant to become autonomous to completely reduce the risk of being part of a car crash. When level 4 and 5 autonomous cars will be fully tested, budget-friendly and on the roads, people might change their opinion regarding the occurrence of traffic collisions.

In some places where people can already see these cars on the streets, a reduced number of car crashes can be noticed. 71% of the people who were part of surveys regarding the benefits of driverless cars said that it is very likely that such cars will reduce the number of accidents.

At the same time, 58% of the UK respondents said that using such a car would be economically beneficial for the country, by bringing down insurance rates and increasing fuel efficiency.