Staff Publications

Autonomous Driving Safety

  • The Tesla Model S currently involves a level of autonomy via its autopilot mode. An NHTSA report released on January 19 2017 in response to a fatal acccident in 2016 determined that the autopilot function decreased vehicle accidents by 40 per cent. While the autopilot mode is by no means a fully autonomous driving system, it does hint at the potential for increases in vehicular safety when machines take the wheel.

Vehicle Accident Statistics

  • The United States' Department of Transport (USDOT) has determined key statistics regarding United States motor vehicle accidents in 2015. There were 35 092 motor vehicle deaths in 2015 (up from 32 744 in 2014). Around 30 per cent of these involve alcohol. There were 6.296 million police-reported crashes in 2015 (up from 6.064 million in 2014). We can reasonably expect that with the shear numbers involved, there will still be a substantial number of autonomous vehicle crashes in the future.

Autonomous Vehicle Liability

  • Professor Gary E. Marchant and Rachel A. Lindor (University of Arizona) authored The Coming Collision Between Autonomous Vehicles and the Liability System in 2012, which does a very good job of describing key aspects of liability law and how it will likely affect autonomous vehicles. They conclude that there will be an inevitable shift liability from the driver to the manufacturer. They also suggest that manufacturers (in defending potential lawsuits) will ask that accidents be considered in context - that is autonomous vehicles are much safer than non-autonomous vehicles, meaning that one needs to consider the net reduction in accidents when considering specific events.

  • Professor John Villasenor (UCLA) talks about how we should not fear liability laws in his paper Products Liability and Driverless Cars: Issues and Guiding Principles for Legislation. He argues that while some people fear how liability can slow down the deployment of technology, experience has shown this to not be the case. Liability laws have successfully adapted to many emerging technologies, and we should not think otherwise for autonomous vehicle technology.

Other Resources

  • Moral Machine - From self-driving cars on public roads to self-piloting reusable rockets landing on self-sailing ships, machine intelligence is supporting or entirely taking over ever more complex human activities at an ever increasing pace. The greater autonomy given machine intelligence in these roles can result in situations where they have to make autonomous choices involving human life and limb. This calls for not just a clearer understanding of how humans make such choices, but also a clearer understanding of how humans perceive machine intelligence making such choices.