Road Safety and Self-Driving Vehicles
Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute recently released a white paper entitled,
“Road Safety with Self-Driving Vehicles: General Limitations and
Road Sharing with Conventional Vehicles”. Highlights of the paper are shown below.
Self-driving vehicles are expected to improve road safety, improve the mobility of those
who currently cannot use conventional vehicles, and reduce emissions. In this white paper we
discuss issues related to road safety with self-driving vehicles. Safety is addressed from the
following four perspectives: (1) Can self-driving vehicles compensate for contributions to crash
causation by other traffic participants, as well as vehicular, roadway, and environmental
factors? (2) Can all relevant inputs for computational decisions be supplied to a self-driving
vehicle? (3) Can computational speed, constant vigilance, and lack of distractibility of selfdriving
vehicles make predictive knowledge of an experienced driver irrelevant? (4) How
would road safety be influenced during the expected long transition period during which
conventional and self-driving vehicles would need to interact on the road?
The presented arguments support the following conclusions: (1) The expectation of zero
fatalities with self-driving vehicles is not realistic. (2) It is not a foregone conclusion that a
self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced, middle-aged driver.
(3) During the transition period when conventional and self-driving vehicles would share the
road, safety might actually worsen, at least for the conventional vehicles.