Self-driving cars were once confined to the realms of sci-fi movies and imagination, but now they’ve become a technological reality. Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission decided to allow Google’s Waymo and GM’s Cruise to charge consumers for rides in driverless taxis.
Unfortunately, the following week, two Cruise self-driving cars were involved in accidents that caused the California Department of Motor Vehicles to force Cruise to cut their fleet in half during the investigation into the wrecks.
While it’s scary that self-driving cars were involved in car wrecks, the reality is that human drivers are also capable of wrecking, and the question isn’t whether or not self-driving cars are perfectly safe; the question is whether or not they are safer than human drivers.
Digging Into The Facts on Self-Driving Cars
Timothy B. Lee with Ars Technica dug into the data to find the answer. He conducted his research by reading every crash report that Waymo and Cruise filed in California in 2023, which added up to 102 total crashes that involved self-driving cars.
If that sounds like a lot of crashes, Lee notes that these crashes happened throughout 6 million miles driven. This would be the equivalent of one crash per 60,000 miles, about one crash every five years for the average human driver.
What he found in the data was interesting: most of the self-driving car crashes were low-speed collisions with no serious safety risk. They included things like bumping into inanimate objects like shopping carts, curbs, or other factors that were the other driver’s fault.
Safety Statistics for Human Drivers
Since humans have fatal crashes once every 100 million miles, it will take a while longer to finish collecting the data from self-driving cars so that we can compare it to human drivers. But for now, the evidence points out that self-driving cars may be just as safe as human drivers.
This is important to know because if self-driving cars really are safer than human drivers, policymakers should push the use of self-driving vehicles in an attempt to save lives on the road.