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High Profile Driverless Car Crashes

This article lists the early crashes that involved driverless cars, i.e., a car that is not being driven by a human. In reality, there is no such thing as a driverless car, the driver is either a human or a computer. Therefore, the term self-drive car is more appropriate. However, the term driverless car seems to be in common use. In some cars, the driverless mode has to be engaged, for example, Tesla's Autopilot mode. Thus, this article does not cover the many crashes that have occurred in cars that support driverless mode but are driven by humans when crashes occur.

Car Crash

The data currently available suggests that driverless cars are now safer than human-driven vehicles, though research is ongoing. Why? Some humans are bad at driving. Humans can be distracted, drive too fast and do not think through their actions. Humans also get ill and tired, and can even fall asleep. Whereas computer drivers are not interested in looking at a mobile phone, they stick to the speed limits, calculate their actions billions of times per second and never tire. However, computers can get ill (breakdown) and can have bugs in their software, i.e. no driver, computer or human, can ever be perfect.

Another problem for computers is the need to deal with the millions of different road conditions and possible incidents that could occur. This requires a level of intelligence (often lacking in some human drivers). Computers use some form of Artificial Intelligence (AI), often Machine Learning (MI), to drive a vehicle. This is followed by an enormous amount of testing. There are efforts to automate testing so the MI can be tested in far more many scenarios than is physically possible by driving a vehicle around (though that will always need to happen). An example of a testing initiative is the Safety Pool Scenario Database, a set of curated driving scenarios for testing and validation of Advanced Driver-assistance Systems (ADAS), which would include self-driving.

Date Maker Vehicle Cause Deaths
2018-03-23 Tesla Model X Collision with faulty crash barrier, see 1 1
2018-03-18 Volvo XC90 Collision with a woman walking a cycle across a road, see 2 1
2018-01-22 Tesla Model S Collision with a stationary fire truck, see 3 0
2017-03-24 Volvo XC90 Human driven car hits and overturns autonomous Uber car 0
2016-05-07 Tesla Model S Collision with a tractor-trailer at an intersection, see 4 1

Further Information on Some of the Crashes

  1. Autopilot engaged, follow distance set to minimum, visual warnings and an audible warning given, see the Tesla blog post.
  2. Autonomously driven Uber knocked over a woman wheeling a cycle across the road, the woman appeared out of the darkness without warning. The pedestrian died from her injuries.
  3. Autopilot engaged, vehicle speed 65 mph. It appears the Tesla was travelling behind a large pickup truck that swerved unexpectedly to avoid the fire truck. The driver did not respond to the situation.
  4. Autopilot engaged, the NHTSA Report did not find it at fault, the vehicle's cruise speed had been set to 74 mph.

Data on ADAS and ADS

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) now collates data on incidents involving vehicles fitted with ADAS and ADS features. That is Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS), for example, active lane-keeping assist, and Automated Driving Systems (ADS), i.e., self-driving systems. There was a data report released on June the 15th 2022. See the release's news item NHTSA Releases Initial Data on Safety Performance of Advanced Vehicle Technologies.

Late 2023 Update - Driverless Car Issues Continue

It has been several years since the first crashes involving driverless car technology were reported. However, the technology still has issues. San Francisco has halted driverless taxis after a pedestrian who was hit by another car was dragged under a Cruise driverless taxi.

See Also

  • For a full list of all the articles in Tek Eye see the full site alphabetical Index

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