Self-driving car: You can’t test-drive safety

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Will autonomous automobiles ever be safe enough? To really determine that, one would have to test them for centuries. At least that’s what a legendary American think tank says.

Google is proud of the accident-free excursions of its self-driving car on “real” roads. But this type of testing is miles away from proving that automobiles of this type are safe and reliable. That is what a recent report from American think tank RAND Corporation (research and development) says. And what those ladies and gentlemen say carries a great deal of weight. Some even say that RAND controls America.

The non-profit organization has been advising the American military and government since the end of World War II. It developed spy satellites and packet switching—the transmission technology upon which the Internet is based. And it played a major role in keeping the Cold War from escalating into an unwanted nuclear war. Now it has some 1,600 employees around the world who monitor all important domestic and international trends.

Self-driving car with insufficient mileage

Naturally, that also includes autonomous driving. In this case, the think tank’s analyses have come to the conclusion that hundreds of million or even billions of miles on the road are still needed to sufficiently determine whether self-driving automobiles are just as safe as human drivers.

According to statistics from the American Bureau of Transportation, drivers in the United States drive an impressive three trillion miles every day. That makes even millions of “autonomous” miles on the road over several years appear pathetic by comparison. However, according to RAND, the ultimate deciding factor in whether self-driving cars actually make sense is how safe they are compared to human drivers.

Folks at the think tank mainly see the current study as a warning against safety claims that cannot be verified statistically. There is no doubt that road tests are justified. Nor that additional measures such as stimulations, mathematical model studies or other pilot projects are needed. And even then, it may still not be possible to prove unequivocally that self-driving automobiles are reliable before their official “rollout”.

The safety of autonomous driving

Even millions of "autonomous" kilometers on the road cannot verify either the reliability or the safety of self-driving automobiles. (Image: Pixabay).