As consumers, all of us have come to appreciate and benefit from a continual stream of innovation in the automotive industry. Because of this innovation, a wide variety of safety features have trickled down to consumers, and this occurs continuously. Among the new technologies that are becoming more widely available is automatic or self-driving technology.

The promise of fully automatic driving technology has many people excited, but it also has some concerned. While automatic driving technology would theoretically reduce human error, it isn’t clear how well the technology will function in real-world situations. While fully automatic vehicles have not been on roadways long enough and in great enough numbers to get an accurate picture of their safety performance, the University of Michigan recently conducted some limited research on the issue. 

What researchers found was that the self-driving cars are actually getting into more crashes per miles traveled than ordinary vehicles. The twist in the research is that the accidents in question were apparently not due to errors in automatic driving technology, but to errors by other drivers.

The research is certainly limited by the fact that the number of sample miles for self-driving vehicles is still so small, that the scope of challenges self-driving vehicles are demonstratively capable of meeting is still limited, and that the number of reported crashes per miles driven by ordinary vehicles is not necessarily completely accurate. It will be interesting to see how the data stacks up as more representative samples are gathered.

In our next post, we’ll take a look at the issue of liability when it comes to accidents involving fully automated vehicles.