Will self-driving cars be the safest vehicle on the road?

October 28, 2013 12:00 AM

According to the leader of Google's autonomous-car endeavor, Chris Urmson, the company's self-driving cars are a safer and smoother drive when steering themselves, rather than being controlled by a human. Urmson made those claims at a robotics conference in Santa Clara, Calif., along with his presentation of data from the hundreds of thousands of miles Google's autonomous vehicles have logged, reported the MIT Technology Review.

Some of the analysis presented at the conference showed that human drivers accelerated and braked more sharply than when the car was driving itself. Another piece of data showed that Google's cars, when driving themselves, were more likely to keep a safe driving distance from other cars than their human counterparts. Last year Urmson reported that Google's self-driving car had driven more than 300,000 miles without causing a single accident under computer control

Not only is the self-driving car causing less accidents, but it may change the way we document accidents as well. In his presentation, Urmson showed data from one of his Google cars that was rear-ended by another driver while waiting in traffic. The Google car's internal map of its surroundings was able to clearly show how the Google car slowly came to a stop before the other car rammed into it.

"We don't have to rely on eyewitnesses that can't be trusted as to what happened — we actually have the data," said Urmson. "The guy around us wasn't paying enough attention. The data will set you free."

The idea of letting a computer drive you may still seem, understandably, nerve wracking to some. However, the data seems to show that not only is the self-driving car here to stay, but it may lead to exponentially safer roadways. While self-driving cars won't fix themselves when it comes to regular vehicle maintenance like brake repair, oil change and tire replacement, they could take almost all human error out of the act of actually driving oneself. 

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