Automotive critics and have been questioning self driving car safety. Will self driving cars be safe? Is driverless car safety technology equipped to interpret qualitative gestures, such as sirens, crossing guard whistles and hand gestures from people directing traffic? In fact, a study done by the University of Michigan in 2014 found that 57% of those surveyed had concerns when it came to self driving car safety. However, many new vehicles on the market today are considered safer than ever as they use similar technologies as part of their crash prevention systems.

Self Driving Car Safety Technology

Self driving car safety is implemented through LIDAR, radar, laser, GPS, and visual technology that senses the vehicle’s surroundings and transmits signals to the vehicle which allow it to react appropriately, whether that means alerting the driver to the issue or reacting on behalf of the driver if driver intervention does not take place.

Today, self driving car safety features can be seen in many automotive manufacturers’ safety systems. Most new vehicles are equipped with a forward-collision warning system that employs sensors and/or cameras to warn the driver if there is a risk of a collision. It may also autonomously pre-charge or engage the brakes, and tighten seat belts. While these functions may not prevent a collision altogether, they can reduce the severity of one.

With crash prevention features becoming more autonomous, there seems to be a significant improvement when it comes to reducing collisions. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports a decrease in collisions of up to 15% when it comes to vehicles equipped with automatic braking. Other features such as adaptive cruise control, which can also be paired with steering assist technology, can provide a safer commute during rush hour traffic. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert work to monitor the area beside and behind the vehicle. If a vehicle or object are detected, the driver will be alerted accordingly. Pedestrian and cyclist detection are also coming to the forefront, employing similar technology. Meanwhile lane-departure warning aids in helping fatigued or distracted drivers from leaving their lane. The system combines camera and radar to monitor the lane markings, and alerts the driver if they are about to leave the lane without a turn signal.

Self Driving Car Safety and Google’s Driverless Car

Google has been testing its driverless car for over 6 years and reports only 17 incidents. While each incident was minor, fascinatingly enough none were the self driving car’s fault. Each incident was a result of human error, which accounts for 94% of all automotive accidents. This can be seen in the fact that 16 out of the 17 accidents were due to being rear-ended or side swept by another car.

The tech company’s self driving car utilizes GPS to know its location, while an array of technologies such as LIDAR, radar, sensor and visual technology work in combination to guide the vehicle. Learning algorithm software collects data from these technologies and reacts based on the data it receives. The combination of technologies allows for the vehicle to monitor its environment and detect objects around the vehicle, and anticipate their behaviours and movements. The vehicle then responds accordingly, operating at a safe speed, accelerating and braking as needed, and make turns without incident.

Challenges with Self Driving Car Safety Technology

Although self driving car safety technology is considered to reduce collisions and incidents, there are some potential challenges. Not only will consumer acceptance regarding self driving car safety be a hurdle moving forward, but ensuring the proper policies are in place to regulate the technology will likely be an obstacle as well.

Posing a real threat to self driving car safety is car hacking. Hackers can wirelessly engage or disengage various automated functions by hacking into the vehicle’s computer. As the technology grows in popularity, manufacturers will have to equip vehicles with safeguards to protect against hacking.

Since the self driving car is operated by an automated system comprised of various technologies, it may be too cautious and careful compared to human operated vehicles. This could hinder its performance by failing to predict and anticipate surrounding vehicles’ behaviours, as humans are unpredictable and sometimes overlook or cut corners when it comes to the rules of the road.

The Future of Self Driving Car Safety

Features such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication provide the basis for the technology needed to keep driver and passengers safe when fully autonomous vehicles become available on the mainstream market. With that being said, McKinsey & Company reports that self driving car safety features could reduce by up to 90% of automotive fatalities. Provided the right technology is in place, self driving car safety will be a question of the past.