The age of artificial intelligence (AI) is upon us, and we're increasingly seeing this being used in the road technology space. For example, while some of Volvo's future vehicles will continue to be driven by human drivers, for human enjoyment, it recently announced in plans for autonomous vehicles. Volvo is not alone – Jaguar and Porsche have also outlined plans which involve continued production of cars that allow for human drivability, despite the existence of technology that makes human involvement unnecessary.
If traditional and automated vehicles share the road, what impact does this have on the safety benefits of automated vehicles? And if someone is injured by an automated vehicle, will their state’s road accident scheme cover them?
Safety benefits of autonomous vehicles
The projected statistics regarding the likely safety benefits of the introduction of autonomous vehicles are very positive – research indicates that around 95% of accidents are caused by driver error. It is assumed therefore that if human drivers are taken out of the equation, then automated vehicle technology may cut out close to 95% of car accidents. This possible 95% drop in accidents however works on the assumption that all parties to the accident are automated, eliminating the occurrence of driver error.
Autonomous vehicles and traditional vehicles
A world where all vehicles are autonomous and are able to interact and co-ordinate with each other sounds great, however it is clear that there will be a prolonged period where both automated and traditional vehicles will be driven on our roads at the same time. This will occur while consumers transition to the new technology. Additionally, the plans of vehicle manufacturers show us that there is also the possibility that we may never transition to a time where vehicles are 100% automated as some users may simply enjoy the activity of driving.
This means that autonomous vehicles must be skilled at navigating scenarios involving human error. One might even suggest that during this initial stage where the technology is very new, the danger presented by autonomous vehicles is greater than it may be in the future when the technology has been improved. Accordingly, there continues to be a very real risk of injury to humans, even with the introduction of this technology.
Volvo’s 2020 Vision presents an interesting point, mostly likely completely inadvertently, where it states the goal that “by 2020 no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car”. The notable part of this statement is where it refers only to the safety of those in the new vehicle, and not those other road users who may still be driving traditional vehicles.
What will happen if someone is injured by an automated vehicle?
For those who are injured in collisions that may involve both automated and traditional vehicles, it is crucial that our laws and transport accident schemes cover this overlap. In their current state, it is likely that someone injured by an automated vehicle would not be covered by their state’s road accident scheme. This would lead to terrible and unjust scenarios where injured people may not have access to medical support and compensation simply due to the involvement of an automated vehicle.
It is important that automated vehicle technology is encouraged and facilitated as it helps us move to a safer future. However, we must not forget that like most things, it will take time. And while we wait, we need to make sure that people injured on our roads continue to be covered and supported by road accident schemes.