Debate Ensues On Self-Driving Cars And Road Safety

self-driving car

Does safe driving always mean following all of the rules of the road?

In theory, driverless cars — such as those designed by Google — are made to be consistently cautious. But in practice, it’s not always clear if following rules to the T is the safest bet.

The New York Times has recently reported that driverless cars’ meticulous adherence to road safety is causing problems: they aren’t built to factor in the spontaneity and context-based decisions made by other h
uman drivers.

One can envision countless scenarios in which human drivers make impromptu choices that break the standard rules of the road.  For example, many drivers  trying to make a left turn at  a busy intersection might end up quickly making the turn as the light changes from yellow to red. While you aren’t technically allowed to make a left turn on a red light, a driver might have to do it as a matter of necessity — it’s not safe to remain in the intersection after the light changes.

Rules regarding speed limit also comes to mind here. New drivers are taught to constantly drive at or slightly below speed limit, but quickly see that those around them don’t always do the same. While drivers should strive to not majorly exceed speed limits, there are important exceptions when speeding might potentially be safest: for instance, if highway driving, it’s dangerous to drive significantly slower than the cars surrounding you.

So far, driverless cars have not proved themselves to be exempt from fender-benders either. The New York Times report described one example where a driverless car stopped for a pedestrian to cross the street and was hit by the vehicle driving behind it. This is one of the 16 crashes that Google’s self-driving cars have been in — every one of which, according to the company, has been technically caused by the error of another driver, rather than any fault of the driverless car.

Albeit minor, this particular accident is just one example in which driverless cars  put themselves at risk, demonstrating that while imperative to practice safe driving,  the reality is that not many drivers follow every single one of the rules of the road. Ultimately, makers of the self-driving cars of the future are left to grapple with the tricky design paradox: how can driverless cars be programmed to be appropriately aggressive amongst sometimes unpredictable human drivers?

Image source: Business Insider 

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