Self-driving cars for bad drivers vs. self-driving cars for good drivers

IMO from everything I’ve read and the programming/computer experience I have, self-driving cars will generally be better than poor/impaired/inattentive drivers, but not better than good attentive drivers.

So self-driving cars will bring everyone’s skill to the level of a self-driving car’s programming and sensor quality. That would likely be better than bad drivers, worse than good drivers.

If I’m a good driver (granted most people think they are) who has never gotten into an accident, I would be rightly pissed if I was forced to ride in a self-driving car that then gets into an accident in a snowstorm or construction zone or whatnot, a situation I probably would not have crashed in.

And will a Mercedes self-driving car have better software and sensors and avoid accidents more capably than a Toyota Corolla?

It will be much better at weaving through traffic and tailgating.


I have wondered what a self-driving car would do if it encountered some of the things I’ve encountered. Example: Driving on I-70 in the rain. I’m in the far left lane, which is moving fast, as it should. Probably not as fast as if it were dry. A towed vehicle in the middle lane ahead loses a wheel. The wheel careens around, going from one lane to another, goes into my lane, bounces off the concrete thingie…I did not alter my speed. Slamming on the brakes at highway speed is rarely a good idea, and I also figured that I couldn’t outguess this random wheel’s movements and also figured (hoped) that by the time I got to where it was, it would be somewhere else. In other words I went straight for it without even slackening my speed, and that worked.

I don’t know what a self-driving car would have done. I’m thinking brakes?

No those are the BMWs! :smiley:

I’m thinking the quick-and-easy programming failsafe for all sorts of situations in a self-driving car will be brakes. As you have cited, that is usually a good answer, but not always. I don’t think cars will be able to see as much and think as much as a person for a long time. And after they can think as much as human, then we have AI and all the questions and problems that come with that.

In the case of a bunch of self-driving cars, the case against brakes weakens greatly. Brakes are generally a bad idea on the freeway because the person behind you isn’t expecting you to brake, and is probably following too close. Reaction times being what they are, you risk being rear-ended. If the car behind you is also self-driving, it will be following at a safe distance and will have way better reaction time than a human driver, and so will safely brake behind you. Especially if the cars are talking to each other, which is a really obvious thing to implement anyways.

Most likely, a self-driving car would not have been going fast in the left lane. They will most likely all go the speed limit (or lower depending on conditions). And a self-driving car jamming on the brakes would be zero problem if most vehicles on the road are also self-driving cars, since the other cars could react instantly to one car slowing down (if not by sensing it, then also perhaps by the cars communicating to each other). And when self-driving cars actually arrive some years from now, it is more likely than not that standard cars will have started the common adoption of automatic braking (which is currently available as options on some cars, but ten or fifteen years from now, will almost certainly be extremely common on the roads).

It also is possible that the sensors on self-driving cars might know with greater precision where the wheel was and where it was going, but that’s no guarantee.

But in general, we’re talking about an exercise in psychology more than technology. Given these hard-to-dispute points, what will most people conclude?

  1. People tend to think of themselves as above-average drivers, regardless of the truth.
  2. Self-driving cars will very likely be able to handle most situations better than the typical driver.
  3. There are probably a few scenarios that self-driving cars will handle worse than the typical driver.

So if you compare all the accidents that occur to all drivers, and all the accidents that we can reasonably project will occur to self-driving cars, it’s hard to see that self driving cars would be more dangerous than humans. In all likelihood, all self-driving cars as a group will be far safer than all human-driven cars as a group. And yet, people will think of themselves as being better than the average driver, such that many people will instinctually think that they are better than a self-driving car.

Unless that car is flirting with that cute Nissan two lanes over.

There are a lot of cars (and not just the self-driving prototypes) that already see better than a human being.

Don’t think of the tire avoidance problem as some kind of magical “anticipate the trajectory and avoid the accident”. that’s probably 50 years past a workable self driving car… An object impinging on the space the car knows it needs to stop safely will trigger a braking response. at 5 mph, that will be a matter of aa few meters as opposed to 100 meters or so at freeway speeds.

I agree with your summary, and I would certainly hope self-driving cars wouldn’t be on the road until they are competent.

It will be interesting seeing how self-driving cars are introduced in large numbers. It seems like having all self-driving cars on the road instead of a mix of self and manual driven cars would be safest. But it won’t be practical to go 100% self-driving overnight. So until then one of the largest wildcards to a self-driving car will be manually-driven cars.

Most accidents happen due to momentary lapses of attention. Even presumably good drivers have those, but fewer, and they’re more likely to get away with them without an accident. No human has the ability to perfectly pay attention to the road all the time though, so even the best of drivers have a non-zero chance of being distracted at just the wrong time. Computers pay attention all the time, which is why self-driving cars have the potential to beat absolutely all drivers.

Was it also the approach used by everyone else? Did it work for all of them? If not, you’re giving your driving skills credit for an outcome that was just dumb luck.

Now if someone had actually been hit by this tire, would the outcome have been worse than if they’d hit the brakes?

Totally agree, and it drives me batty when I see other people posting about how the future is here with respect to self driving cars. “Look at Tesla!” they say. “They have a button labeled Autopilot! They’ve figured it out!”

No, they haven’t. It’s going to be quite a few more years before autonomy is really here. Grumble grumble get off my lawn.

I would be rightly pissed if I was forced to ride in a self-driving car that then gets into an accident because it is hackable.

“AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!” They will have excellent sound systems.

Yep it would seem to me that if cars are talking to each other wirelessly, then that wireless protocol better be hackproof because some major chaos could be started that way.

The solution is obvious. The left lane is reserved for German cars. You can’t be tailgated if you’re not in our way. :smiley:

:dubious: How many humans do you know who have radar? On a relatively straight high-speed road, self-driving cars are going to be far safer than manually operated cars. They can observe events at a greater distance, predict events more accurately, react to events much more quickly than any human. They also won’t do 45 miles per hour in the fast lane, or randomly overtake using slower lanes.

On local roads with poor markings, ad hoc traffic patterns, unpredictable blockages and so forth, I suspect self-driving vehicles will have limited utility. But on an interstate? Much better than any human.

On the first you noted this, but still got responses with ‘most people think they are above average drivers’. :slight_smile: However by the same token that most people can’t be above average* some people have to be if there’s any variation. Especially in an age of renewed populism and anti-elitism it’s not going to be easy to tell people, “listen to your betters, you are ‘probably’ not far above average so just let the car do it”. I think the response will be polarized like everything else nowadays.

Also again in social commentary terms, there’s so much hypish sounding, to me at least, enthusiasm about self driving cars that itself makes me wary. Though I’m not a technophobe particularly and I’ll probably get the more modest forms of driver assistance on an upcoming car purchase at some point: automatic braking at least the low speed kind. I’m not sold on the high speed kind**, and letting the car steer itself from what I know of anything coming soon: no. Part of it is a my ‘overblown’ sense that I’m a good driver. But the evidence says I am. I haven’t had more than a parking lot accident in 40 yrs, have done track driving (in BMW’s, but I drive mine docilely on crowded public roads, the flip side of arrogant BMW drivers is pissed off crappy, too fast drivers of other cars stuck behind a careful BMW :slight_smile: ). It may be a challenge for me like most people to accept the eventual decline of my senses and faculties as driver but that’s an issue, if you last long enough, no matter what.

On the second point the long established trend is that luxury makes have this stuff first, but it’s pretty much the same on all cars before every long. Right now as far as automated braking features, it actually seems more common on the cars in dealer stock of certain mass market brands than luxury. Notably few cars in US BMW dealer inventory have those options, but some are now standard on Toyota’s. Maybe because of that particular customer base.

*OK technically speaking if you can accurately quantify a skewed distribution most people can be above the average, it’s just no more than half can be above the median by definition.
**if a pedestrian jumps out in front you hit the brakes, and if you get rear ended so be it. At high speed the decision algorithm to use steering or brakes is a lot more complicated, and the car only steer or stop maximally, not both at once.
***an interesting related kerfuffle is some BMW Car Club of America branches, an org not connected to BMW AG, have banned BMW’s with the more extensive driving aids from their tracks. They are afraid the high speed braking function (radar based, as opposed to the separate <35mph electro-optical sensor based feature) could cause accidents on tracks. At least one in my area relented and will allow the cars if drivers show the offending features are turned off; their previous position was you couldn’t count on drivers turning them off.

I don’t know. It was in front of me. The other cars in front of me were way ahead of it. I didn’t look back to see how people were handling it behind me.

I would say luck, but not dumb luck, because I do think I was better off not slamming on my brakes, and for sure not swerving to avoid it.