Are self-driving cars safe?
- The first self-driving car dates back to the 1939 New York World's Fair, where General Motors featured 'an electric vehicle guided by radio-controlled electromagnetic fields generated with magnetized metal spikes embedded in the roadway.'
- Billed as 'the world's first autonomous ride-hailing service,' Waymo One offers 'fully autonomous rides in the East Valley of Phoenix, Arizona,' with a fleet of 600 cars.
- A 2019 AAA poll revealed that 71% of surveyed US drivers would 'be afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle.'
- Allied Market Research reports that in 2020, the 'global autonomous vehicle market' was valued at $76.13 billion.
Self-driving cars are making the transition from dreams to reality. However, it’s still too early to make them mainstream--especially considering the dangers associated with them.
Despite being hi-tech, these cars are still computing devices, which makes them quite vulnerable to hacking and potentially compromising drivers’ safety.
Autonomous vehicles may also fail to recognize danger as instantly as humans would. In fact, Tesla is being sued for fatal crashes caused by the AI-powered autopilot.
However, that’s not the only way self-driving cars can be lethal.
These vehicles emit two forms of electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation: extremely low frequency (ELF) and radio frequency (RF). Both can lead to adverse health effects such as cell damage, neurological issues, and fertility problems. And these effects aren’t limited to drivers. Passengers, too, are exposed as they sit close to the car’s powerful electric system.
Another danger drivers and passengers alike may face is a hydrogen gas explosion, especially in cars powered by Lithium-Ion (LI) batteries. Lithium can create a metal fire that releases toxic gasses and projectiles upon collision that can take hours to get under control, let alone to put out.
Aside from the cars themselves, external factors, such as their drivers, make self-driving vehicles unsafe. Contrary to what most believe, these cars aren’t fully self-driving yet. Therefore, drivers should always be alert while behind the wheel. Another factor is the lack of regulations, making roads far from ready to welcome these cars.
Until all these aspects are addressed, sitting in a self-driving car may be a death wish for drivers and passengers alike.
Despite what your intuition may tell you, self-driving cars will be safer than human-operated ones in a very short time. In 2021, about 42,915 people died in car accidents in the US alone, and another 4.4 million were seriously injured. Despite all other safety improvements, this number keeps rising.
Most accidents are due to poor perceptions, attention, or memory. The top causes of accidents are distraction, impaired mental/physical states, poor judgment, or failure to comply with traffic rules. All innately human traits that computers do not experience.
Even though self-driving technologies are still in their infancy, they have already driven millions of miles with few serious accidents. They will continue to get safer as the technologies and AI advance, and yet, 43% of people still do not trust them. But most people didn’t trust conductor-less elevators at first either.
It will take time, but most analysts say the benefits are immense. It will reduce traffic and eliminate stop-and-go waves, reducing emissions by 60%. This will speed commutes, reduce congestion, and increase productivity or free time. That’s on top of reducing traffic deaths by about 90% or saving 30,000 lives each year.
Furthermore, the economic shift towards ride-sharing instead of ownership means fewer parking lots and congested city streets. Cities of the future will be much more comfortable, quiet, and healthier than today.
In the future, we can spend our commuting time enjoying activities that reduce our stress levels while also minimizing our risk for getting injured or worse on the road.