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Is a self-driving vehicle safer on the road?

If you've been watching the news or reading tech journals, you know that self-driving cars are professed to be the wave of the future. Google has been testing self-driving cars for over five years, and other auto companies are advocating this technology as the ultimate advance in automotive safety.

These claims are now coming into question simply due to the way that we report and track accidents under the current system. Here is some information about self-driving cars technology, and the potential pros and cons of owning one of these vehicles.

Underreported accidents

It is now an established fact that American drivers tend to underreport accidents. Google teamed up with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute for a study that showed, on a national level, drivers underreported injury crashed by 25 percent and non-injury crashes by 60 percent or more. When self-driving cars become a reality, this crash data is automatically recorded and, in some states, reported. If you're hearing news reports that self-driving cars are crashing more than conventional vehicles, this could be the logical explanation.

Benefits of self-driving cars

Since more than 80 percent of car crashes are due to human error, having a computer in control of your vehicle will drastically cut down on the rate of vehicle accidents. The algorithms developed in self-driving cars know exactly how much stopping distance is required in each situation, reducing the chances of a collision. In fact, if just 20 percent of the cars on the road had this technology, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that over 21,000 lives would be saved annually, equating to over $109 billion in savings for damages, healthcare, and other accident recovery costs.

Potential concerns with self-driving cars

While self-driving cars deliver a lot of benefits to the driver and society as a whole, they aren't without their drawbacks. If you choose to own one of these vehicles, you'll need some extensive training on its operation so that you understand the controls. Also, the technology remains in its infancy and isn't cheap, with the cost of the equipment and software currently reaching upwards of $100,000. There remain some concerns about security, as these vehicles could be of interest to computer hackers. This may not be the best choice for those who don't want accidents reported or who have issues with "big brother" knowing their business, as the technology tends to record your every move.

As for safety, self-driving cars are deemed safer but not in all circumstances. They're safer if more people adopt the technology, which seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. Also, these vehicles haven't proven to be as safe in severe weather conditions, when there are other road hazards, or when conventional traffic signals fail.

While self-driving cars are an exciting emerging technology, many issues still need to be addressed before these vehicles are ready for public consumption.

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