A disturbing new study found that driverless vehicles are twice as likely as human-manned vehicles to get into a crash. Why? Because they always obey traffic laws.
Though the crashes have so far been minor fender-benders, the results of the study are surprising, since one of the biggest reported advantages of driverless cars would be enhanced safety.
The study, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, says that the high crash rate is closely related to the fact that driverless cars always travel at the speed limit. The driverless cars were never actually at fault in the crashes; they were typically hit from behind by impatient or inattentive drivers who are unused to driving with vehicles that always follow the law. The study found that driverless cars also ran into trouble because they can be overly cautious — unable to take the risks necessary cross three lanes of busy traffic in order to reach an exit, for example, without help from their human drivers.
Google is already working on ways to make its fleet of autonomous vehicles more “aggressive” and therefore better able to handle the challenges of driving on a modern highway full of humans. Other driverless vehicle engineers are now toying with the idea of teaching the cars to disobey the law in certain circumstances — for example crossing double yellow lines to give a bicyclist more room.