Autonomous cars are already crash-free: can people now stop driving into them?

Volkswagen autonomous carA preliminary study of autonomous cars has found that they are already impossible to crash – but are still involved in proportionally more crashes per million miles than conventional cars.

Because conventional cars keep crashing into them.

The study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute on three of the 10 companies currently approved for real-world testing in California – Google, Delphi and Audi – compared the safety record from the early trials of autonomous cars with the overall U.S. vehicle safety record for 2013.

“Self-driving vehicles were not at fault in any crashes they were involved in”, the team discovered. What’s more, the overall severity of crash-related injuries with self-driving vehicles is also lower than for conventional cars.

But the estimated crash rate per million miles travelled is higher than conventional vehicles because so many normal cars drove into the back of autonomous cars: they’re 1.5 times more likely to be hit from behind than normal cars.

Other cars also sideswiped them, and drove into them at an angle. But head-on collisions have been totally avoided thus far by self-driving cars.

Conventional cars crash with fixed and non-fixed objects, as well as get involved in collisions with other vehicles. Whereas every single self-driving car accident involved another car. They hit none: every time, another car hit them.

The numbers are low but it’s still reassuring for other road users – this study suggests we have little to fear from autonomous cars. They are designed above all not to crash into anything. So probably aren’t going to drive into anything they shouldn’t.

It’s those in self-driving cars themselves that should be more worried, by a public apparently quite willing to drive into them. And the only way to avoid that? Get us all into autonomous-equipped cars…