Greg Yeutter


The First Self-Driving Car Fatality

Not a self-driving car. Photo by Oskar Krawczyk on Unsplash

Today, a self-driving car caused the first fatality. It won’t be the last.

But let’s put things in perspective: In 2016, 37,461 people died on U.S. roads. That’s 102 deaths per day.

It’s hard to say whether a human driver or a computer is safer at this point. The best measure would be fatalities per vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

There were 1.18 deaths per 100 million VMT in 2016.

Self-driving cars are improving all the time, while human drivers are not.

We don’t have a VMT statistic for self-driving cars yet. This is hard to calculate because autonomous cars are new, but also because self-driving cars are improving all the time, while human drivers are not.

We do know that human drivers are getting worse. In 2015 and 2016, deaths per VMT went up. This could be due to a number of factors, from worsening infrastructure to speed to inattention, despite safer vehicles.

Expect more self-driving deaths. But also expect the overall death rate to decline—eventually—thanks to self-driving cars.

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