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As technology develops around self-driving vehicles I find myself hearing more often people questioning whether they are a good idea. Comments range from “surely they cannot perform as well as a human driver” or “I would rather be driven by a person than a software, I just cant trust it”, and one of the most interesting points I have heard is the moral dilemma that people usually draw, sort of like the famous trolley problem in psychology : “What if a car had to make a decision that would harm either the passenger or a pedestrian?”. Well, I feel that all these questions miss the most important fact surrounding self-driving vehicles- they ARE significantly safer than human drivers.
Humans may have an edge over a self-driving vehicle in a foggy, dark night when driving down a country lane; but under normal conditions it is generally accepted in the scientific community that self-driving cars are significantly safer than humans. And this is not hard for me to believe, with the developments in technologies such as computer vision, machine learning, and the incredible sensors that all vehicles now carry on them, they can predict and react to things that a person could not even notice! After all, a vehicle can have a 360-degree view of its surroundings, and it doesn’t get distracted. In fact, during a 300,000-mile study by google on its self-driving technology, there was only one accident, and it happened whilst a human was controlling the vehicle; for comparison, a human driver in the US has an accident every 165,000 miles. Another good example is the Waymo’s self-driving vans that have been involved in 30 minor accidents, and just one of those minor accidents has been caused whilst in self-driving mode.
Now I know that there is a huge range of factors that must be analysed to really evaluate the safety of the self-driving vehicles, but it seems that most unbiased publications (like published statistics on vehicle accidents posted by governmental organizations) show that self-driving vehicles are safer. Ok I feel I have made my points and views clear on why they are safer.
Now, the following question remains: if a vehicle must choose between say taking a left turn and injuring one person, or taking a right and injuring another, who are we to tell a vehicle that the power to choose which life to take?
This is a powerful question, and one which I have pondered upon for a while and I have come up with a sort of multi-level answer. For me, the most important factor about this question is that the question itself seems to serve as a distraction from the grander viewpoint: If a self-driving vehicle is 30 times safer than a person driving it, we will have to ask ourselves this question 30 times less often. Isn’t that already a win?
My second point is who says a person in the exact same scenario as the vehicle will have the time or sense to make the right decision, or any decision at all? Personally, I could say that which decision should be made should be left to statistics about which outcome is the safest, and may injure the least amount of people. I am not a lawyer or someone who considers themselves to have a superior understanding about what is right or wrong when making a difficult decision such as this one, I just think reducing the total number of injuries and fatalities from road accidents seems to outweigh whether we can currently figure out the perfect solution to such a moral dilemma. It would be amazing if we could reduce the amount of people currently fatally or seriously injured by even a portion of what this technology is promising.
As a final point I want to say I am not against people being allowed to drive. Driving is a fun experience which many of us enjoy and many would like to continue doing, but this issue reminiscent of when the car came along to replace horses as a transportation device; we still have horses, but we use them for other things than day-to-day transport, as they are obviously not the ideal method of transportation for most of us.
So tell me, if you had the choice, would you rather let an autonomous vehicle drive you to work in the morning, or would you risk it and take the wheel yourself?
Posted on November 20, 2018