Overconfidence in driverless technology can be dangerous

This article looks at why overconfidence in self-driving cars could cause distracted driving accidents.

Driverless cars have been touted as one of the most promising ways of bringing down the traffic fatality rate. Advocates claim that by reducing human error, driverless cars will eventually prevent countless car accidents and save thousands of lives each year. And, as USA Today reports, General Motors will soon be mass producing its own self-driving cars, meaning that such cars are bound to soon become a more common site on the roads. However, with self-driving cars set to revolutionize transportation, it is worth remembering that driverless technology is still going through growing pains and that it is far from being completely safe.

Cars are not yet fully autonomous

The goal for automotive manufacturers is to ultimately create a car that is fully autonomous and won't require any human intervention. As the New York Times reports, engineers believe that cars will be fully autonomous within about 10 years, but until then so-called self-driving cars will still need a human operator to intervene at times, such as in an emergency. In these instances, the car's computer hands over control of the vehicle to the human operator in what is called "the handoff."

The handoff, however, is creating quite a few safety concerns. That's because asking operators to suddenly take control of a vehicle that is already moving is itself dangerous. One Stanford University study, for example, found that human operators who were playing a game on their smartphone while behind the wheel of a self-driving car required a full five seconds before they were able to regain control of the vehicle when prompted to do so. In an emergency situation, of course, it is often necessary for the operator to regain control of the vehicle much faster than five seconds.

Distracted driving in self-driving cars

The need for a handoff between the computer and operator means that anybody behind the wheel of a self-driving car needs to be alert and ready to take control at a second's notice. However, the very nature of self-driving technology seems to encourage human operators to be distracted. Without having to focus on accelerating, braking, or steering, it is common for operators of self-driving cars to spend their time focused on things other than driving, such as interacting with passengers, using their smartphones, or even looking for items in the backseat.

This overconfidence in driverless technology has already proven deadly at least once. Last year a man was killed in Florida when his self-driving Tesla ran under a tractor trailer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which investigated the accident, determined that Tesla and its self-driving technology were not to blame because the operator should have intervened and taken control of the car..

Getting help after an accident

An accident can be a devastating event and one that may require weeks and even months spent recovering. Anybody who has been hurt in an accident should get in touch with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help clients understand their options following a crash, includi ng how to pursue whatever claims they may be entitled to.