Are self-driving cars safe?

A computer error that led a Google self-driving car into the path of a bus is stimulating new questions about the safety of self-driving vehicles.

Cars that drive themselves have been in the works for some time now despite the hesitation of many Americans. How soon self-driving vehicles may come to be commonplace on Chicago roads remains to be seen. In the meantime, researchers from a variety of industries including the automobile and high-tech worlds are continuing their work to make these vehicles a reality for all. But, just how safe will self-driving cars really be? Can Chicagoans trust their lives and the lives of their loved ones to computer-operated vehicles?

It's not about eliminating accidents

A researcher at the University of Michigan explained to c|net that self-driving cars may not necessarily eliminate accidents but they will dramatically reduce them. In the end, it could well be not so much about being completely safe as it could be about being safer than vehicles operated by humans. With as many as 90 percent of accidents today caused by human error, there may be some merit in this line of thinking.

Especially when the roads will include vehicles driven by humans, vehicles operated solely by computers and vehicles operated by computers with the ability for humans to intervene, crashes will still be a reality. However, the number of accidents is projected to come down by a factor of 10. Among the benefits of self-driving cars will be the vehicles' inability to break the rules by speeding, failing to stop at stop signs and other things routinely done by humans.

Computer error can be a problem

According to Wired, Google had a relatively long track record of being able to say that its self-driving vehicles were not to blame for any accidents they were involved in. That changed on Valentine's Day of this year with a crash that happened in Mountain View, California.

While driving at a relatively slow rate of speed on a surface street, the Google vehicle detected items in the road. In an effort to avoid hitting the items, the vehicle began to move into the adjacent lane while a bus was approaching from behind in that lane. The Google vehicle saw the bus but continued, assuming that the bus would adjust accordingly. That did not happen and a crash occurred. This incident does raise new questions about the safety of self-driven cars, especially when sharing the road with human-driven vehicles.

Accident fatalities in Illinois

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Cook County is the location of a large number of the state's vehicular fatalities each year. For example, in 2014, 235 out of 924 statewide deaths occurred in Cook County. How this may be impacted if self-driven vehicles begin to populate Chicago roads, highways and freeways remains to be seen.

What is known is that accident victims always deserve help. Whether a crash involves human-driven vehicles or self-driven vehicles, people should contact an attorney for help in seeking appropriate compensation. This may be especially important with computer-operated cars as there could be unique features to these cases.