Self-Driving Cars: How Dangerous Are They?

In this blog post, we will examine the risks associated with self-driving cars. Read on to learn what they are and why, when it comes to this technology, caution is advised.

The Current Definition of Self-Driving Vehicles

As of this writing, we are still on the road to true self-driving automation in motor vehicles. Most of what we currently refer to as “self-driving” technology is actually feature enhancements, meant to assist the driver. These vehicular systems provide continuous assistance, such as basic steering and cruise control, but still require a driver to remain fully engaged while driving.

The next step in the evolution of self-driving tech is what the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) refers to as Conditional Automation, where your car can perform certain driving tasks, but you must remain alert and ready to take over control at any moment. Also under development are High Automation and Full Automation, which would allow drivers to simply ride as passengers and not have to pay attention or be involved in the driving process at all.

With this clarification in mind, let’s take a closer look at the test results so far for more advanced automation in cars, and why accidents have already been blamed on self-driving technology.

Autonomous Vehicle Accidents in California

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires Tesla and other automobile manufacturers testing out self-driving cars to report any accidents during their tests that injure or kill anyone, or result in damaged property. As of April 2023, the DMV reports receiving 577 such reports. We reviewed a sampling and discovered the following worrisome commonalities:

  • Accidents tended to occur more often at night
  • Types of crashes ranged from sideswipes to the automated car hitting another vehicle while turning or changing lanes
  • Appears to be an equal balance of crashes occurring in clear conditions as in poor (e.g., rain)

What are the probable causes of these accidents? Most likely they are due to one or a combination of issues stemming from issues with the LiDAR/RADAR sensors and driver inattention. For example, if a sensor on the side of the car becomes obstructed by wet leaves and fails to notify the autonomous vehicle’s driver, who is busy texting, that the car beside it is shifting into their lane, then a collision is likely to occur.

Additionally, studies have reported concerns that cars with active driving assistance systems frequently disengage with almost no warning. This requires the driver to take over immediately, which a person lulled into a false sense of security that their car is handling all driving tasks may be slow to do. Those lapses in reaction time could be the difference between life and death.

Other Risks Self-Driving Cars May Pose

Beyond human error and the potential interference or failure of self-driving technology, other components may put driver and passenger lives at risk. These include the lithium-ion batteries typically used in these vehicles. When one of these batteries ignites (which can and has occurred after significant impact, due to high heat exposure, and spontaneously) they burn at incredibly hot temperatures (approximately 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit). Such fires can also be extremely difficult to put out, as evidenced by a reported Tesla crash that resulted in a fire that took four hours and 30,000 gallons of water to extinguish.

Another fear is that these highly advanced driving systems might be hacked. While manufacturers of autonomous vehicles are putting a great deal of time, effort, and expense into preventing this from happening, there are no guarantees that skilled hackers won’t be able to access a self-driving system and potentially use it to take control of the vehicle. This could result in dire consequences for the driver and any passengers, not to mention the occupants of other vehicles and pedestrians sharing the road.

The world in which we are all merely passengers while our cars handle all driving responsibilities has not yet been achieved… although that future is not as far off as it once seemed. While it is true that most accidents are caused by driver errors, and that automated systems mostly help reduce those, we can only conclude that much more needs to be done before we can securely rely wholly on self-driving vehicles.

After a Self-Driving Car Accident, Call Us For Guidance

The laws around automated vehicle-involved crashes, much like the technology itself, are still evolving. Because of this, if you are injured or lose a loved one due to a collision caused by your own or another highly automated car, you will need to consult an attorney who stays on top of the most current data and legislation with regards to these vehicles. As of now, many laws are still be written and adjusted with regards to driver responsibility behind the wheel of an automated vehicle, along with the responsibilities borne by the manufacturer of these cars and their various components.

The complexities of driving may keep fully autonomous vehicles off our roads for some time to come, but even the partially self-driving cars of today may pose a significant risk. Attorney Scott J. Corwin of Scott J. Corwin, A Professional Law Corporation, can help you pursue the compensation you need to replace your lost property and afford recovery from your injuries should your automated car fail you or another vehicle crash into you due to its driver’s overconfidence in its assistive technology. Scott will research the cause of the collision thoroughly and take the steps necessary to identify and hold all responsible individuals and entities accountable.

Contact our office today by calling (310) 683-2300 or filling out the online contact form to discuss the details of your case and learn more about how we can help you. We offer free consultations, so there’s no reason not to reach out to someone from our team right away.