Dear World: Self-Driving Cars Will Get Into Accidents Too (Though, This One Wasn't The Computer's Fault)

from the hello-technology dept

There’s a bunch of talk today over the news that one of Google’s self-driving autonomous vehicles apparently got into a minor fender bender. Google was quick to point out that it was actually under human control at the time, so really there’s not much of a story here. However, since it’s leading to a variety of discussions about how “scary” autonomous vehicles are, why don’t we just get an important point out of the way: there’s no way that autonomous vehicles will have a perfect track record and never, ever get into an accident. They will crash. It’s just a matter of time. The real question is not whether or not they will crash, but whether or not the likelihood of getting into an accident (or the likelihood of the seriousness of any such accident) is significantly higher or lower than with a human at the controls. I’m certainly not confident in the state of the art today to be safer, but I find it likely that it won’t be long until such vehicles have a much higher probability of getting you to your destination safely than a human-driven vehicle.

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Comments on “Dear World: Self-Driving Cars Will Get Into Accidents Too (Though, This One Wasn't The Computer's Fault)”

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58 Comments
Hephaestus (profile) says:

This isn't something that will happen all at once.

Self driving cars will happen in stages. We have already seen two pieces fall into place, cars that auto brake, and cars that self park. Next we will see cars that stop for stop signs and for red lights, and then followed by accident avoidance. Finally fully automated cars that drive themselves.

One thing I know for sure, if Microsoft comes up with self driving software, I will be driving manually.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: This isn't something that will happen all at once.

I think before cars that auto-stop at the red-light and stop signs, I expect cars that automatically give you a ticket if you run one of these. What I already foresee as annoying is the fact that it will take forever to remove most traffic regulations which won’t make sense without human drivers.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: This isn't something that will happen all at once.

Unless driving your own car is outlawed, there will be at least a few human drivers for many many years, perhaps forever. And it will be decades at the earliest (that is, starting from the time when self-driving cars become commonplace) before it’s illegal to manually drive a car on public roads, so traffic regulations will not obsolete for a long time to come.

egghead (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Here’s an idea–it’s novel, I know–don’t mess with the registry (caveat: unless you have had sufficient training on how the registry functions)! I’ve had to fix too many computers where the user thought they’d be doing themselves a favor by googling the symptoms and following the regedit instructions. Yet, they wonder why their computer suddenly won’t open executable files or let them access their lolcatz favorites.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Isn’t MS windows great, the longer you own it the slower it gets. Now lets put it in a car …

“Unknown error, airbags deployed”
“Accelerator stuck at maximum, please contact vendor”
“You have 90 days to register your cars OS or it will be disabled”
“The OS has detected ‘possible’ infringing content, driving you to the police station”

Anonymous Coward says:

We're already beyond Safe with this technology

“I’m certainly not confident in the state of the art today to be safer,”

Are you kidding? These things have driven hundreds of thousands of miles and this is the first “potential” accident? I’m ready to sign on the line right now if that is any measure of future car driving.

Even WITH manual assisted driving, this is amazing!

HothMonster says:

Re: We're already beyond Safe with this technology

I’m not sure its ready for the city yet. Driving around Chicago the only thing that has saved me from a major collision more than a few times is spotting a jackass at a great distance and avoiding him like the plague. If I was going cross country I would be fine with it, but there are too many erratic, stupid, drunk, distracted, arrogant bastards in my weekly travels that I am not sure a computer is ready to spot and avoid.

Anonymous Coward says:

For those of us who live in places that actually have seasons and get snow(and lots of it) during the winter, they still have a long ways to go. They seem to work great right now when the weather is good and visibility is at least decent. Hopefully it won’t take long for these prob;ems to be ironed out.

DCX2 says:

Re: Re:

I disagree. I live where it snows in the winter. My Jeep has a special feature that literally stalls the engine out if it detects that the wheels have lost traction even if I’m hitting full throttle. With this feature enabled it is almost impossible to spin out. This computer assisted driving feature is great, IMO.

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unlike humans, computers won’t be restricted to the capabilities of our eyesight. Being able to have low-light/infrared vision would probably help a lot.

On top of that, a car would know immediately it starts loosing traction, unlike a human.

I think especially for us that gets a lot of snow cars without an ego or an overestimation of their own capabilities, will be a lifesaver.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Liability

I can’t wait for the day when there are automated cars. However, I wonder what will happen when it comes to liability for these accidents. Most likely it will shift to the automakers, or perhaps to whoever is writing the automated driving software (though I could see both, assuming they aren’t the same entity to begin with). I doubt accidents will be chalked up to natural causes, but I suppose it could, at least in some instances.

It makes me wonder how insurance will change. Will insurance companies cover that (they’ll charge for it no doubt), but then who will they go after? Maybe they’ll make it so expensive to cover that they won’t need to go after anyone.

I also wonder what will happen in the case that an automated car is in an accident with a manually driven car? I suspect the manual driver will sue the owner of the automated car, the manufacturer and the driving software writer, even if the fault lies with the manual driver.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Liability

To politely disagree:

Modern insurance structures have nothing to do with guaranteeing safety/costs being covered and everything to do with making sure EVERYBODY who drives must–by law–shell out $$$$ to insurers.

Therefore, following the “most money to be made theory” the insurance structure will maintain its present state even after everybody has begun using a self-driving car. Who is ‘responsible’ will still be determined in the same manner.

QED Car A strikes Car B, Car A’s ower’s insurance will be paying, and there Car A’s owner will also be paying.

There is more money to be taken from everybody than from a handful of companies making car-algorithms.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Liability

True enough. I don’t think the car insurance racket is going away no matter who is driving. In most accidents only the insurance company is involved. But I’m thinking more along the lines of the few accidents that happen now with manual drivers where litigation arises. If those few cases instead involved automated cars, what would happen. Judging by trends, the companies with the most money are going to get sued.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Liability

That’s one possibility, especially at first. But what if it becomes as automated as say a clothes dryer. No one I knows starts their dryer and then stands next to it until it’s done, even though there is the potential for it to start a fire and burn an entire apartment down. I honestly don’t know who would be at fault in such a situation, excepting the obvious (e.g., drying gasoline soaked clothes, manufacturer design flaws).

The more I think about it, the more I think things probably wouldn’t be any different than they are now. Insurance companies (and by extension, the insured) pay in most circumstances, and of the remaining cases, barring situations where a party is obviously at fault, the entity being sued will be the one with the most money. Of course that doesn’t answer how a judge/jury will rule.

Like I said, I’m all for automated driving, even while fully recognizing that it won’t be perfect. I just wonder who will ultimately be held liable in cases where perfection is not only not achieved, but catastrophically avoided.

out_of_the_blue says:

First kid that gets run over ends this nonsense.

A jury will never believe that a human driver couldn’t have avoided running the kid over, not least by predicting what kids will do and making allowances.

If it’s claimed that robot reaction times and accuracy are far bettter than human, it’s disproved by fact that wasn’t. If try to weasel that “accidents will happen”, then it proves they knew was unsafe.

Google can insure (by own deep pockets) that a few of these can be operated “safely”. I doubt any insurance company would underwrite a whole fleet: unknown but large risks.

HothMonster says:

Re: First kid that gets run over ends this nonsense.

“A jury will never believe that a human driver couldn’t have avoided running the kid over, not least by predicting what kids will do and making allowances.”

Ummm human drivers run kids over all the time

“it’s disproved by fact that wasn’t.”

So they are not better because your hypothetical situation proves they are not?

“Google can insure (by own deep pockets) that a few of these can be operated “safely”. I doubt any insurance company would underwrite a whole fleet: unknown but large risks.”

“If try to weasel that “accidents will happen”, then it proves they knew was unsafe.”
But accidents will happen, you can’t account for everything. If the robots drive safer than the humans, but not 100% safe we shouldn’t let them drive? By that logic cars should be banned. Along with anything that has sharp edges, hard surfaces, and square corners.

Who owns a fleet of cars? If they are proven to be safer than the average human driver im pretty sure the insurance companies will love them. Oh thats right, that was “disproved by fact that wasn’t.”

Paul (profile) says:

Automation will happen.

Doesn’t matter if you don’t like it.

Liability isn’t going to stop it.

Unions (truckers, taxi drivers, FedX, UPS, USPS) will not stop it.

There is a clock, and every second brings us closer to the day that our cars will drive us where we want to go.

We will be let off at the front door. Houses will not have Garages. Most people will not directly own a vehicle but will buy into a vehicle pool.

We will save 39,987 lives out of the 40,000 lives lost on highways each year. We will avoid 149,876 out of the 162,000 significant but non-fatal injuries that occur in highway accidents each year.

I don’t know when this will happen. I always thought it would happen before 2020 at least, but that seems unlikely now. But it will happen.

fast-Kev says:

its time is comming

I think all people who drink alcohol,talk on cell phones,have pets in their laps,put on nail polish, have sex, fight in car would have much greater chance of living.

I see people on highways such as I 95 who are sleepy and their car starts to wander in lane, so wouldn’t it be great to climb into back and get some sleep while computer drives car.

Airplanes have had auto pilot for years as do boats.

the ins issue would have to be worked out but i see a safer experiences on roads. Hope gov gets out of way of progress.

PeterCao (profile) says:

Sebastian Thrun, who was the project leader of this self-driving car project, had deliberately trapped me in collateral with a criminal suspect named Gabriele Scheler in Stanford. People behind Thrun had systematically molested many years of my life without an end. Google’s Eric Schmidt had threatened my life with a real murder case of Stanford student May Zhou (http://www.mayzhou.com) for sake of Sebastian Thrun during their fight with Stanford.

Investigation from authorities after my tip confirms that it is people on Schmidt and Thrun’s side who’s behind May Zhou’s murder case in order to threaten me and to terrorize Stanford. And the power on their side did try to plot a murder on me while I was in California. Before the case could be publicly clarified, neither Thrun nor Schmidt’s name is clear in such plotted murder. So far, they dare not deny such accusation-s but pretend not seeing while publicly losing their faces.

In the past, Thrun’s bosses had tried to get me work with Sebastian Thrun as a settlement of crimes from Thrun’s
side, but I never compromised a bit, because as I told the investigat-ors, that it is unfair to that innocently murdered girl May Zhou.

It’s unfair to myself as well, as Eric Schmidt, Sebastian Thrun and Gabriele Scheler’s side did try to murder me
while I was in California;

Who wants to work with a professor who’s misbehaviors had caused the murder of an innocent student of their own school anyway.

PeterCao (profile) says:

serious stuff

Sebastian Thrun, who was the project leader of this self-driving car project, had deliberately trapped me in collateral with a criminal suspect named Gabriele Scheler in Stanford. People behind Thrun had systematically molested many years of my life without an end. Google’s Eric Schmidt had threatened my life with a real murder case of Stanford student May Zhou (http://www.mayzhou.com) for sake of Sebastian Thrun during their fight with Stanford.

Investigation from authorities after my tip confirms that it is people on Schmidt and Thrun’s side who’s behind May Zhou’s murder case in order to threaten me and to terrorize Stanford. And the power on their side did try to plot a

murder on me while I was in California. Before the case could be publicly clarified, neither Thrun nor Schmidt’s name is clear in such plotted murder. So far, they dare not deny such accusations but pretend not seeing while publicly losing their faces.

In the past, Thrun’s bosses had tried to get me work with Sebastian Thrun as a settlement of crimes from Thrun’s side, but I never compromised a bit, because as I told the investigat-ors, that it is unfair to that innocently murdered girl May Zhou. It’s unfair to myself as well, as Eric Schmidt, Sebastian Thrun and Gabriele Scheler’s side did try to murder me while I was in California;

Who wants to work with a professor who’s misbehaviors had caused the murder of an innocent student of their own school anyway.

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