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Will AVs Eliminate Crashes?

In a recently published study, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) analyzed 5000 U.S. crashes and concluded that likely only those caused by driver perception errors and incapacitation could be prevented by self-driving cars [1].

The autonomous vehicle industry quickly responded that the cars were programmed to prevent a vastly higher number of potential crash causes, including more complex errors caused by drivers making inadequate or incorrect evasive maneuvers. Taking those design choices into account, autonomous vehicles could avoid some 72 percent of crashes, said Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), a consortium of self-driving technology companies. Interestingly, the group also said it is "fundamentally speculative" to determine crash avoidance rates [2].


Personal comment

Increased traffic safety is one of the most prominent arguments for the introduction of AVs. That these vehicles have the potential to surpass human drivers’ lack of attention, fatigue, training curve, etc. is clear. However, that it should lead to a complete elimination of traffic-related accidents is unlikely, especially when it comes to mixed traffic scenarios.

We should be careful to put human vs. technology performance against each other and instead aim for well-functioning socio-technical systems. The introduction of AV related technology (be it active safety features or more complete systems) should be ways to get further when it comes to vision zero, at least in those parts of the world that have already introduced solid safety measures in the form of education, norms, safe vehicles and infrastructure. A shift of responsibility from the driver to OEM/tech-provider will likely bring new perspectives to accidents (perhaps similar to what we see in today’s aviation with thorough investigations and high stakes for companies).


Written by Victor Malmsten Lundgren, RISE.



1. 2020-06-04 Self-driving vehicles could struggle to eliminate most crashes

2. 2020-06-05 AV developers dispute IIHS study findings