Instead of waiting until the technology behind autonomous vehicles is perfected before being widely used in the U.S., research from the RAND Corporation indicates that using the technology — imperfect though it may be — could still save thousands of lives each year.
According to the report, even if the technology is only 10 percent better than human drivers, the number of road fatalities over the next 15 years could be dramatically reduced, potentially preventing thousands of deaths.
“Our work suggests that it is sensible to allow autonomous vehicles on America's roads when they are judged to be just moderately safer than having a person behind the wheel," said Nidhi Kalra, co-author of the study and director of RAND's San Francisco office. "If we wait until these vehicles are nearly perfect, our research suggests the cost will be many thousands of needless vehicle crash deaths caused by human mistakes. It's the very definition of perfect being the enemy of good."
However, despite the improvement over human drivers — with 90 percent of automotive crashes resulting from human error — autonomous vehicles, according to critics of the report, are still vulnerable to crashes and other hazards such as cyber-attack, bad weather and complicated traffic scenarios.
"This may not be acceptable because society may be less tolerant of mistakes made by machines than of mistakes made by people," said David Groves, study co-author and co-director of RAND's Water and Climate Resilience Center. "But if we can accept that early self-driving cars will make some mistakes — but fewer than human drivers — developers can use early deployment to more rapidly improve self-driving technology, even as their vehicles save lives."
To read the report, go to The Rand Corporation.