Are Autonomous Vehicles and Driverless Cars Dangerous?

Are Autonomous Vehicles and Driverless Cars Dangerous?

This fall, Congress is considering legislation that will boost the development and use of autonomous motor vehicles and driverless cars (SUVs, minivans, etc.) on the roadways of Indiana and Illinois as well as the rest of the nation.

It can be tracked online as Senate Bill 1885 (SB1885).  The full title of the proposed law is “The American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act.” 

Everyone refers to it as the “AV START Act.”  Read the text here.

Why Pass the AV Start Act?

The bill was approved by the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on October 5, 2017.  At that time, the Committee’s Chairperson issued a statement encouraging the passage of the law:

 “Today’s vote underscores the bipartisan desire to move ahead with self-driving vehicle technology.  The safety and economic benefits of self-driving vehicles are too critical to delay.”

This means that the legislators view the proposed legislation as a good thing – a way to make the streets, routes, and highways safer for all of us.  From this perspective, driverless vehicles mean less traffic accidents and fatal crashes.

And even its critics agree, in the big picture, that automated vehicles will decrease injuries and fatalities caused by motor vehicle accidents.  From the Consumers’ Union:

Self-driving cars and their component automated driving systems (ADS) have enormous potential to make our roads safer by significantly reducing crashes attributable to driver error, and to improve mobility for millions of older Americans, individuals with disabilities, and other consumers nationwide.

Will the AV Start Act Become Law?

Of course, before this bill becomes the law of the land, it has to pass a full Senate vote; the House of Representatives has to vote approval of it; and the President has to sign his okay as well.  It’s not official yet.

But many predict the AV Start Act will become federal law.  Some believe it will zip through the legislative process and hit the President’s desk in record time.  And that with its provisions mandating expedited actions, it will work to get driverless cars and SUVs on the roads pretty darn fast.

This is very good news to proponents of driverless vehicles.  But not everyone is happy about this possibility.

Safety Concerns of Driverless Vehicles and the AV Start Act

Many safety advocates are concerned about this pending legislation as drafted.  They are worried about having a fast-tracked federal law pushing autonomous cars onto our streets and roadways.

Respected organizations like the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Consumers’ Union, among others, read the bill as being inadequate as currently written.

Specifically, they worry that the AV Start Act doesn’t have enough protections for the public safety included in its provisions.  Moreover, it also lacks in setting up enough governmental oversight  to monitor these driverless vehicles as they hit the road and drive alongside us, and our loved ones.

The AV Start Act, as currently drafted, according to the Consumers’ Union will:

  • Allow hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of cars on the market that are exempt from federal safety standards and do not adequately protect occupants in a crash.
  • Invalidate state and local highway safety laws and undermine traditional state and local roles, including supervision of the safe operation of vehicles on public roads.
  • Ignore critical recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to help ensure the safety of the partially automated, Level 2 vehicles that already are on the market, which are based on the NTSB’s findings that Tesla’s “Autopilot” driver-assist system played a major role in the May 2016 fatal crash of a Model S in Florida.

The Very Real Dangers of Driverless Cars

Here’s the thing: everyone is looking at the rising number of fatal traffic accidents and looking to driverless vehicles as the magical answer to prevent car crashes.  But that’s not reality.

Just because the vehicle isn’t being driven and therefore subject to human error does NOT mean that there will not be accidents caused by these cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, and minivans.  Autonomous vehicles will commit driving errors too, with fatal consequences.

  1. In an article written last year entitled “7 Ways Driverless Cars Could Fail,“ and published in Forbes, contributor Chunka Mui warns of the following:
  • Corner Cases will cause fatal accidents, as predicted by research performed by MIT’s John Leonard.  These driverless vehicles are forecast to err as they make left hand turns into heavy traffic, as well as being unable to react appropriately to road hazards like adverse weather and changes to road surfaces in order to prevent an accident.
  • The technology is not ready for the real world. These driverless vehicles haven’t been tested for long term use, where they can have problems like electrical malfunctions.
  1. Kathy Benjamin warns us in an article published in Cracked last year, entitled “6 Ways Driverless Cars Are Going To Kill Lots Of People,” that:
  • Studies show that driverless cars get into lots of accidents. In fact, research shows they are FIVE TIMES MORE LIKELY to crash than a vehicle driven by a human being.
  • Driverless cars do not understand the nuances of driving and will follow the driving laws exactly. Which sounds great, until you think about that time that you came up to a sofa or moving box that had fallen into the middle of a traffic lane on the freeway.  You know to veer into the median or shoulder to avoid the obstruction.  Will the automobile car do so, too – or will it stick with the lane laws and cause a crash?
  • They depend upon GPS without deviation. And who hasn’t discovered that if they relied upon their GPS, they would have ended up in a ditch, in a construction zone, or halfway to Topeka?

Driverless Trucks: What about Big Rigs and Semi-Trucks?

Legislators intentionally separated consideration of driverless commercial trucks from the pending autonomous vehicle legislation.  They will deal with driverless big rigs at a later date.

Forecast: Tragic and Horrific Fatal Crashes Caused by Driverless Cars

It appears that sooner rather than later, federal legislation will encourage the manufacture and distribution of driverless vehicles here in Indiana and Illinois as well as the rest of the country.  And this will happen long before the safety concerns of autonomous vehicles are fully addressed.

The result will be tragic and horrific fatal traffic accidents caused by machines operated without human drivers.  Be ready.  And be careful out there!





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