Making deaths from driver error a thing of the past

Autonomous vehicles could save over 350,000 lives in the US and millions worldwide. DoT researchers estimate that fully autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving cars, could reduce traffic fatalities by up to 94 percent by eliminating those accidents that are due to human error.

94 percent of deaths — or 352,133 — could possibly be prevented through fully autonomous cars by eliminating driver error.

“I think that most people, most experts, would say that there’s a strong possibility that automated technology can prevent the crashes that are related to human error, and there is a pretty hard number that’s about 94 percent of fatal crashes in the US are attributable, or caused by, human error,” said John Maddox, CEO of the American Center for Mobility.

People are optimistic about autonomous technology in cars because it works well in areas where humans tend to not work well. “For example, human error often includes lack of vigilance. They’re distracted for whatever reason, whether texting or eating or talking with kids in the back seat. Or they could be impaired. Or they could be driving in conditions where they have a hard time, like dark night in an urban area with pedestrians, etcetera,” Maddox said.

Cars with automated technology have sensors that never lose vigilance. “They’re always looking for pedestrians. They’re always looking for the edge of the road. They’re always watching the car in front. They don’t become distracted or drunk, and I think that’s really the main reason why most experts would say that there is a definite possibility that automation can significantly reduce those human error caused fatal crashes,” Maddox said.

“I think that pretty much for every mistake that a human makes there’s an opportunity for automation and artificial intelligence to replace that flawed behavior with a safe behavior,” Morton said.

Some of the types of accidents that can be potentially avoided in an autonomous vehicle include front-to-rear crashes, with real-world testing showing a 40 percent decline, said Susan Beardslee, senior analyst for ABI Research.