Why Google’s self-driving car may save lives — if all cars are computer-driven

May 11, 2012 | Source: CNN Money

Self-driving car (credit: Google)

The technology behind Google’s self-driving car represents a potential leap forward in auto safety.

More than 30,000 people are killed each year in crashes despite huge advances in auto safety. The overwhelming majority of those crashes are caused by human-driver error.

Computer driven cars could reduce traffic deaths by a very significant degree, said David Champion, head of auto testing at Consumer Reports, but only if all cars are computer-driven.

“I think if all the cars were self-driving, it would be a benefit,” he said. “I think a mixture would be a bit chaotic.” That’s because humans are better at predicting the behavior of other humans than computers could ever be, he said.

“When I’m approaching an intersection, I look to see of the other driver is looking at me,” said Champion. “If he’s looking somewhere else and inching forward, I’m going to lift off the gas.”

Google’s cars, modified Toyota Priuses, are still in the testing stages and aren’t available to the public. But some so-called “driver assistance” technologies are already helping to lower traffic deaths in cars you can buy now. For example, Electronic Stability Control, which uses computers to help drivers maintain control during abrupt maneuvers, has been shown to reduce fatal crashes by as much as a third.

One technology the Google car doesn’t utilize, but which would help make self-driving cars much more effective, Champion said, is vehicle-to-vehicle communication. So called V2V communication uses transmitters to send and receive signals that tell other cars where each car is, where it’s headed and how fast it’s moving. The devices can also communicate with transmitters along the road.

V2V is already in advanced stages of development by a consortium of automakers and the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.