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Self-Driving & Driverless Car Accidents and Injuries

Driver errors and the logic of self-driving cars

On the streets and highways around Los Angeles, the traffic congestion can lead to a variety of driver reactions, ranging from anxiety to boredom to anger. Some of these attitudes may be behind the factors that research indicates are the main cause of motor vehicle crashes. Regardless of the trigger, though, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted in 2015 that driver mistakes led to 94 percent of the thousands of traffic accidents reviewed during that year’s study.

Estimates show about 41 percent of the crashes caused by human error have recognition errors as a primary factor. Distractions inside and outside the vehicle, failure to adequately survey the situation around the vehicle and driver inattention are included in this category. Decision errors make up 33 percent of the accidents, including speeding, poor judgment, anticipating other drivers’ actions incorrectly and performing illegal maneuvers. Overcompensating, losing control of the vehicle and other performance mistakes lead to roughly 11 percent of the incidents, while 7 percent involved non-performance errors—primarily falling asleep behind the wheel. Another 8 percent are classified as “other.”

Roadway conditions and vehicle malfunctions only make up 4 percent of the total when it comes to crashes. This may be part of the reason automated vehicle developers and manufacturers feel so confident that taking drivers out of the equation will make the roads safer. According to Forbes magazine, the use of cameras, radar, image detection and other technology may allow appropriate vehicle responses where drivers fail. This full driving responsibility by artificial intelligence and electronic sensors is known as the dynamic driving task (DDT). The full definition of DDT is “all of the real-time operational and tactical functions required to operate a vehicle in on-road traffic,” according to a quote in by Edward Straub, DM, Director of the Office of Automation at SAE International.

Until federal and state government regulations have determined safety standards for self-driving cars, drivers may still take advantage of systems that help reduce crashes due to human error. Much of the technology focuses on identifying and responding to traffic situations, as well as reducing the visual and manual interaction with distractions such as cellphones within the vehicle.

Are they safe?

Self-driving automobiles like the one Google is working on remain pretty mysterious, as few have seen the prototypes that Google is testing on California’s roads. So it is perhaps not surprising that a national newsmagazine like Time would print an article based on the account of an anonymous witness, who says they see Google cars every day, and has some observations to share.

The witness says they live in Mountain View, California, where they reportedly see up to six of the modified Lexus vehicles every day while riding their motorcycle. Though the witness, who wrote a post on a technology blog, mostly had positive things to say about riding near the self-driving vehicles, they did say that the cars “drive like your grandma.”

In other words, the vehicles typically act more cautiously than human drivers. For example, the blog post described the cars being slower to accelerate when a light turns green. The cars also tended to slow down a great deal at intersections with low visibility, perhaps more than a human driver would believe is necessary.

This is supposed to be one of the big selling points of automated vehicles, of course. They are supposed to eliminate the risk of a human behind the wheel who is drunk, distracted, experiencing road rage or is simply reckless. The witness’ post noted that the Google cars never speed or cut people off when changing lanes, maneuvers that often lead to car crashes when human drivers do them. The writer said they felt safer around the Google cars than being near “most California drivers.”

Driverless Cars Update: More States Approve Testing

It seems like every day, something new is happening in the world of automated vehicles. Back in 2016, the governor of Michigan signed a bill into law allowing the testing of driverless automated vehicles on public roads. Now in 2021, 29 states have passed legislation related to autonomous and driverless vehicles. The Michigan bills, signed by Governor Rick Snyder, include automated vehicles without steering wheels. These vehicles have been a major point of controversy, as many critics argue the importance of a manual override. Michigan now joins California and several other states in allowing autonomous vehicles to be tested. These bills in Michigan may have far reaching implications as they open a variety of avenues for the autonomous vehicle market to expand.

In California, autonomous vehicles cannot be piloted without a driver. With the new laws that were passed in Michigan, automotive manufactures will be able to build and test their fleet of driverless ride sharing vehicles. While many states have adopted expansions of automated driving, no state has legalized the practice of using these vehicles for ridesharing. This bill signing will allow companies like Ford to partner with Lyft and Uber to test and provide a new market of ride sharing never before possible here in the United States. It seems fitting that the powerhouse of the American auto industry would be at the vanguard of driverless technology.

How will these bills affect drivers in California? Because the bills adopted in Michigan only allow auto manufacturers to test their cars, companies like Apple and Google may put more pressure on the California Legislature to allow for similar expansions of automated vehicle testing for companies other than those currently manufacturing and selling street legal vehicles. With companies like Tesla, Google and Apple all looking to make massive waves in the industry, we can reasonably assume California to follow suit.

Considerations regarding Google’s driverless cars

Although legions of people across the country have an innate curiosity concerning self-driving cars, of course, scrutiny of such vehicles is comparatively intense in California, and for understandable reasons.

For starters, the major player in the driverless-car stakes is Google, and that company was founded in California and has its headquarters in the state, with the so-called Googleplex being home to thousands of workers in Santa Clara County.

And, of course, many Californians are used to seeing self-driving prototypes at various technological stages motoring around the state.

To say that Google executives harbor a grand and aggressive vision regarding the future of the company’s driverless cars would be an understatement. As noted in a media piece on Google’s driverless vehicles and relevant considerations surrounding them, company engineers have been testing the cars for years, with Google officials routinely prodding state safety regulators to move faster in approving widespread use of the vehicles on California roadways.

Although it might be unfair to say that state officials are balking at moving forward with driverless cars in the state, there is no question that they are highly cautious about endorsing testing outcomes and other threshold plateaus that evidence a continuously refined product.

Such prudence — reportedly viewed as unnecessary hesitancy by Google principals — is not tied to regulators’ dismay with what the future promises. As the above article notes, many safety officials are truly excited about the safety-enhancing possibilities associated with driverless cars.

Notwithstanding their ardor, though, it can hardly be overemphasized that cars whizzing around on state streets and interstates without drivers controlling them is a truly big deal. Some hesitancy to forge ahead to usher in a stunning new roadway reality is understandable.

How much longer will it be before all restrictions are waved off regarding Google’s vehicles (and similar products made by competitors)?

In 2021, driverless cars are only gaining speed due to the global pandemic and a resulting heavy shift into single-occupancy transportation.

If you are injured by a self driving vehicle or driverless car

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident involving a self driving or driverless vehicle, contact a personal injury lawyer experienced in representing Californians injured in all manner of road accidents.

Founding attorney, Scott J. Corwin, has recovered $125+ million and has 25+ years of experience in representing accident and injury victims hurt in all forms of motor vehicle accidents. Whether your injury was caused by a self driving car, motorcycle, truck or hovercraft, Attorney Corwin advocates aggressively for your recovery and right to compensation.

Woman sitting reading in self driving car