Wall Street Journal automotive columnist Dan Neil recently called the new Tesla Model Y “the most technically advanced electric automobile made,” and pondered whether it could be deemed the best car in the world, period. Of course, one of the prominent features that any Tesla owner gets is the car’s self-driving capability. Other carmakers have also introduced models that have self-driving capabilities, including BMW, Cadillac and Lexus.

Experts say that self-driving technology has the potential to be safer than motor vehicles driven by humans, but a recent report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) states that autonomous vehicles may prevent only about one-third of all crashes.

Humans Will Likely Override Autonomous Features

Driver mistakes play a role in virtually all car accidents, yet the IIHS study reports that only about one-third of those would be avoided as a result of the improved perception that comes with self-driving technology. To understand why that is, it’s necessary to explain that IIHS places the driver-related factors that contribute to motor vehicle accidents into five categories:

  • Sensing and perceiving – Driver distraction, failure to recognize hazards in time, etc.
  • Predicting errors – Misjudging a gap in traffic, not realizing how fast another car is going, not predicting what another motorist, bicyclist or pedestrian was going to do.
  • Planning and deciding errors – Driving too fast or too slow, too aggressively or to close to another vehicle.
  • Execution and performance errors – Performing inadequate or incorrect evasive maneuvers or overcompensating.
  • Incapacitation – Impairment caused by factors such as alcohol, drowsiness or medical problems.

IIHS reports that self-driving technology could only significantly reduce accidents caused by two of those categories – “sensing and perceiving” and incapacitation. Those two categories combined account for approximately 34% of all accidents.

Removing The Human Element

In order for self-driving technology to significantly decrease the remaining two-thirds of accidents, the human component that contributes to those accidents – speeding, decisions regarding shortcuts and other decisions – would have to be eliminated. That is, the self-driving technology would have to override an operator’s inclination to exceed the speed limit or make a maneuver like a U-turn for convenience’s sake.

Of course adhering to the speed limit is safest, but it’s unlikely that a Tesla Model Y owner who pays more than $57,000 for the car can ignore taking advantage of the vehicle’s acceleration rate of zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Making autonomous vehicles as safe as they possibly can be may require removing the human element from operating the vehicle completely. Until that day, experienced personal injury lawyers will be valued as a means to maximize the amount you recover when injured in an accident that is caused by someone else.