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Self-driving cars are generally safer than human-driven ones, research shows

A self-driving car on display in California at a Google conference.
A self-driving car on display in California at a Google conference. Copyright AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Copyright AP Photo/Eric Risberg
By Anna Desmarais
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New research shows that autonomous vehicles outperform human-driven ones.


Self-driving cars are generally safer than those that are driven by humans, according to a new study. 

Researchers from the University of Central Florida in the US analysed crash data from 2,100 autonomous vehicles and 35,113 human-driven vehicles in California from 2016 to 2022, where autonomous cars on the roads are common. 

The research found that autonomous or self-driving vehicles had lower accident rates than humans in work zones, traffic events, and “pre-accident movements” like slowing down and proceeding straight. 

Where the self-driving cars struggled, however, was if they drove at sunrise or sunset on roads with many turns, the report, published in the journal Nature, found. 

That’s because low light conditions confused the cars’ sensors as did the “complicated conditions” that come when a car is turning. 

It’s hard for autonomous cars to turn because it’s difficult for them to pick the right lane, compute the safest, most efficient path and execute the turn while maintaining control of the car, the report continued. 

Rear-end accidents were the most common type for both vehicles, but the human drivers did those more often than the autonomous cars.

Autonomous cars are better at avoiding rear-end accidents because they have advanced sensors that can analyse their surrounding environment. 

“We may conclude … that human drivers may not react as quickly or may not notice the object in time to take appropriate action,” the report reads. 

California has had a few accidents involving autonomous cars, like a 2023 accident in San Francisco where a distracted driver hit a pedestrian who was then pushed into the path of a self-driving car that ran her over, according to media reports. 

Still, the most common cause of accidents in the state include driving at an unsafe speed, driving on the wrong side of the road, improper turns, phone use and violations of the right-of-way rules, according to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. 

The department received 715 complaints of accidents with driverless cars as of June 11, 2024. 

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