While it is difficult to predict when autonomous vehicles (AVs) will blend into our everyday lives, regulators appear receptive to the technology, publishing first-ever guidelines earlier this week that open the door to large-scale improvements in the transportation ecosystem.
What is certain about the AV revolution is that the new form of data and analytics their onboard systems provide will significantly improve how we determine fault and resolve disputes. Equally important, the big data from AVs can provide insights into how to prevent accidents and save lives.
Today, more than 90 percent of accidents result from human impairment, such as drunk driving or road rage, errant pedestrians, or just plain bad driving. In 2015, for example, roughly 38,000 Americans were killed and 4.4 million injured with damage costs exceeding $400 billion. In contrast, there were zero fatalities from commercial aviation in the U.S. in 2015, and a total of 136 civil aviation fatalities.
While some have cautioned against allowing AVs on the road until collision avoidance systems achieve perfection, less than perfect systems could be compelling enough if they help to reduce accidents. Every percentage point improvement means roughly 400 lives saved and 40,000 injuries avoided on the road annually.
Big data from onboard systems changes everything because we now have the ability to know the physics associated with accidents determining fault. The ever-increasing numbers of sensors on roads and vehicles move us towards a world of complete information where causes of accidents will be determined more reliably and fault easier to establish. With the detail and transparency that big data provides, no fault accidents will not be an option.