Self-driving cars are advancing quickly, which has lead to a debate. Many people don’t like the idea of self-driving cars because they believe the potential for software glitches to lead to a catastrophic crash is too high. I, on the other hand, can’t wait to buy a self-driving car. Software glitches are always a possibility but the truth is we humans are far more prone to error when driving then current self-driving cars have been. That’s because our species as a problem with complacency. When we do a task successfully so many times we become less cautious and allow ourselves to be distracted more easily. This is why humans suck at watching security monitors all day. It’s also why adding some intelligence to our vehicles makes a lot of sense. Recently the European New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) did a study on self-braking cars and found that they reduced rear-end collisions significantly:
While we’re still some way off seeing full-blown, self-driving cars winding their way across continental Europe, a more modest autonomous technology has found approval with safety bods. Research conducted by the European road safety research organisation Euro NCAP concluded that having a car automatically slam on the brakes to avoid low-speed accidents leads to a 38 percent reduction in rear-end crashes.
As you’ll note software glitches didn’t lead to an increase in crashes. And while software glitches could lead to isolated failures that almost certainly won’t be enough to offset the benefits of such a highly reduce rear-end collision rate. This also shows that there are things machines are better at than us squishy humans. Repetitive tasks, such as driving, are one of them.
Machines are not only incapable of getting bored but they are also better at maintaining awareness. A computer can monitor a vast number of sensors simultaneously whereas us humans have five sense that are very restricted (for example, our vision only sees forward and our sense of touch requires physical contact). If you think you can maintain better awareness than a self-driving car equipped with cameras, radar, laser sensors, radio communication to other self-driving cars, and a slew of other sensors you are mistaken.
The debate over self-driving cars shouldn’t be whether software glitches will lead to isolated catastrophes. It should be over whether self-driving cars, as a whole, will increase overall vehicle safety. Since machines are better at almost every aspect of driving (road rage is the only exception I can think of) than we are the debate is pretty much settled. That’s not to say wanting a car you drive yourself because you prefer to drive a car yourself isn’t a valid reason to buy one. But the concerns about safety risks involve in self-driving cars has been put to rest.