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94% Of Car Accidents Stem From Human Error. Will Self-Driving Cars Be Safer?

Ninety-four percent.

Google, Tesla, Uber, safety regulators, and Barack Obama all like to cite this statistic. It's the number of car crashes in the U.S. that can be attributed to human error. The car companies in particular use this number to promote the prospect of driverless cars as a safe alternative. Taking the driver out of the driver's seat, they argue, will eliminate human error, and thus make the roads exponentially safer. Thousands of lives will be saved.

At first glance, it sounds logical. But is it really?

The Traditional Car X Factor

It's oversimplifies the issue to state that giving the roads over to self-driving cars will eliminate the majority of crashes and make roads significantly safer. As yet, there just isn't enough data to back up those claims.

In fact, the Washington Post notes that in some studies Google's self-driving cars appeared to crash more often than cars operated traditionally. As such, representatives from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are hesitant to endorse the technology.

"We should not move forward when automated vehicles are just as safe - or really, as dangerous - as human drivers," one official said. "They need to be much safer."

The Driverless Car X Factor

Driverless car advocates insist that driverless technology is, in fact, safer. But there's no clarity as to what "safer" actually means. As of yet, no safety metrics have been established; there's no way to count the lives that the self-driving cars would save.

The variables are many. It's unclear how self-driving cars perform at night, in heavy traffic, in rain, at high speeds, or on steep grades. And while they might perform well against, say, drunk drivers, whether a driverless car would avoid more accidents than an average commuter has yet to be determined.

Far from it.

The Future - When?

It's estimated that in a 25-year period the average driver will hit the brakes three million times and wreck the car just once. Given the difficulties driverless cars have with rain, ice, snow, bridges, reading road signs, and understanding hand signals from police and crossing guards, that's going to be a very difficult performance to equal, let alone beat.

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