Self-Driving Car Accident Statistics | Kisling, Nestico & Redick
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The technology behind self-driving cars continues to advance. And while a lot of road testing still needs to happen with autonomous vehicles, almost all the major U.S. and international automakers are heavily investing in self-driving tech. By all accounts, it won’t be long until driverless cars must merge with humans on the highway.

Self-driving cars have tremendous potential to make travel more convenient and improve road safety overall. But with new technology comes new concerns. What happens when things don’t work as intended? Are autonomous vehicles safer than human drivers?

At KNR, our car accident lawyers wanted to learn more about self-driving cars, their risks, and the future. Here’s what we found.

The Status of Self-Driving Cars

It’s hard to get precise figures, but there are currently only a few thousand autonomous vehicles on U.S. roads. Most of these are being used to gauge their self-driving capabilities.

As of 2021, 80 companies were testing approximately 1,400 self-driving cars, trucks, and other vehicles in 36 states. But in January 2023, Mercedes-Benz became the US’s first automaker to receive government approval for a Level 3 driving feature in Nevada. Level 3 automation is significant because the car does all the driving, and a driver only needs to take control if necessary. This is a major advance from Level 2, which requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road.

But despite still being in the test phase, the market for fully automated cars is only increasing.

Every year, the autonomous vehicles industry increases by 16% globally, with the worldwide AV market presently worth $54 billion. According to PolicyAdvice, 33 million automated vehicles will be on the road by 2040.

The American public also seems to see the writing on the wall. Approximately 55% of Americans believe that most cars will be able to drive themselves by 2029. (AAA Annual Survey).

Levels of Vehicle Automation

Driver-assist technologies are standard in most newer cars. These features keep us from drifting out of our lane, help us stop in time with automatic braking, alert us about a vehicle in our blind spots, and even discourage distracted driving practices. More advanced features can assist drivers with parking and offer adaptive cruise control.

Level 0 – Momentary Driver Assistance – Features are assistive and do not operate the vehicle. Drivers must steer, brake, and accelerate. Examples are:

  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Forward collision warning
  • Lane departure warning

Level 1 – Driver Assistance – The driver is responsible for driving. When engaged, the system can perform either steering OR acceleration/braking. Examples are:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Lane-keeping assistance

Level 2 – Additional Assistance – The system can perform steering AND acceleration/braking when engaged. Examples are:

  • Highway pilot

Level 3 – Conditional Automation – The system performs driving tasks while the driver remains available to take over.
Level 4- High Automation – Fully responsible for driving while occupants act only as passengers and do not need to be engaged.
Level 5 – Full Automation – When engaged, the system handles all driving tasks while you, now the passenger, are not needed to maneuver the vehicle. The system can operate the car universally – under all conditions and on all roadways.

Automated Vehicle Safety

The AV industry is growing fast, but the safety of self-driving cars still appears to be under debate.

According to PolicyAdvice, 43% of Americans are uncomfortable inside a driverless car, citing safety as their biggest concern. A survey by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety indicated 75% of people would rather drive themselves than ride in an AV. 71% said they would miss driving if autonomous driving became the norm.

Are Self-Driving Cars Safer?

Humans cause a lot of car accidents as it is. 38,824 people were killed in U.S. car accidents in 2020, with approximately 17,000 non-fatal car accidents happening daily. We can do more to make roads safer, but is removing humans from the driver’s seat the correct answer?

94% of all car accidents are due to human error, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And while it’s easy to say that we can achieve a future without car accidents by eliminating human drivers, the reality is more complicated.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety looked at more than 5,000 car accident reports and found that while current self-driving technology could reduce accidents by around 34%, autonomous vehicles still have trouble avoiding, planning, deciding, and execution-related driving errors.

Reducing car accidents by over 30% is impressive—especially the impact AVs can have on drunk driving and distracted driving accidents. But the development of self-driving cars needs to account for road conditions and possible obstructions, traffic laws, and mechanical failures like a flat tire that could still cause an accident.

Automated Vehicle Accident Stats

In 2022, Automakers reported approximately 400 crashes of vehicles with partially automated driver-assist systems to the NHTSA. 273 of these accidents involved Teslas (the most common vehicle with self-driving capability), 70% of which used the Autopilot beta at the time.

Out of the 98 self-driving crashes with injuries, 11 resulted in serious injuries. Five incidents involving Teslas were fatal.

It’s important to note that the data surrounding these accidents do not account for everything and may be skewed because many automated driving systems are still in their infancy. For instance, there is no way to definitively confirm if the self-driving feature was in use at the time of a collision, nor does the data consider if the other vehicle was the cause of the crash.

In 130 reported accidents involving fully autonomous vehicles, there were no injuries in 108, and in most cases, the vehicles were rear-ended.

Liability in Self-Driving Car Accidents

Like any car accident, the details matter when determining who’s at fault and liable for damages. Responsibility and liability are usually straightforward if standard driver negligence is the cause.

The added complication of an accident with an automated driving system is determining if the system was engaged, what the human driver’s obligation was at the time of the collision, and ultimately if the system failed in some way. Unfortunately, proving that a driverless vehicle was to blame for a car accident can be difficult from a legal perspective.

If a product defect is suspected in the AV, it may fall under product liability law. Anyone arguing that a defect resulted in a self-driving crash must establish proof of injury, proof of a defect, proof of appropriate use, and a connection between injury and defect.

Self-Driving Car Quick Facts

  • Approximately 9.1 driverless car crashes occur per million miles driven.
  • 75% of people in the U.S. want Congress to stop self-driving vehicles.
  • 16% of people would be comfortable allowing a fully autonomous car to drive them.
  • 57 % of consumers indicated they would not feel comfortable buying a self-driving car.
  • 55% of small business owners think that in 20 years, their fleets will be fully autonomous.
  • 57% of people familiar with self-driving cars would be willing to ride inside them.
  • According to half of US women and two-thirds of men, life and death decisions cannot be taught to any vehicle.

AVs Are Moving Forward

While autonomous driving technology aims to make roads safer, the opinions and data surrounding self-driving cars are very mixed. Some people believe not enough is being done to increase the number of AVs on the roads so we can see their effect in earnest. Others think it is still early days and the risk of removing human drivers is too much too soon.

One thing is sure: Self-driving cars are coming and are likely a game changer in how we all get around. At KNR, we’ll continue monitoring car accident statistics involving autonomous vehicles and the legal implications for injury victims.