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.