Autonomous vehicle technology has been touted as having the potential to eliminate road crashes, which could significantly reduce the number of fatalities each year. But according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a research group funded by American insurers, autonomous cars could only reduce one-third of road accidents.

However, the autonomous vehicle industry quickly responded by contesting the results of this study. According to her, 72% of accidents would be preventable if those caused by speed and violation of traffic rules were included.

The autonomous driving system unable to avoid certain types of accidents

According to the IIHS study, some accidents are caused by errors that autonomous driving systems are unable to handle. More than 5,000 accidents have been scrutinized, according to the police database on the national investigation into the causes of motor vehicle accidents.

As a result, a third of all accidents were the exclusive result of detection and perception errors, or the driver's incapacity. Most accidents are the result of complex errors such as incorrect assumptions about the actions of other road users, driving too fast or too slow for road conditions, or incorrect avoidance maneuvers. Many accidents are the result of a combination of multiple errors.

The autonomous driving system, as efficient as it is, cannot automatically remedy all of these errors. An example is highlighted in the study to support this reasoning: that of the accident in 2018 involving a pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, fatally struck by an Uber test vehicle. In this case, not only had the software failed to detect the pedestrian, but he had also been unable to predict the path of the pedestrian to operate an avoidance maneuver.

Alexandra Mueller, research scientist at the IIHS, said that one solution would be to modify the system so that safety takes priority over the driver's choice.

" Our goal was to show that if you don't deal with these issues, autonomous cars won't bring huge safety benefits. ”said Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research at the IIHS and co-author of the study.