Will self-driving cars make accidents decrease in the future? Well, that’s just speculation, but I sure hope it means the end of reckless drivers causing some of the worst traffic accidents. I speak (or rather, write) from a place of relative authority. Since I’ve been reporting Bay Area traffic for a few years, I’ve noticed a few things:
1. Between midnight and 1:30 am the number of solo vehicle accidents and rollovers really increase. I’m sure you can see that’s because people are driving home drunk or tipsy and tend to misjudge a curve in the road, and well, bam! Either into the center divider or off the right shoulder.
2. Weekends are a prime time for excessive speeding — and accidents. With traffic patterns different from the weekday traffic, there are people who get on the road, see traffic generally light, and will then speed around traffic often exceeding the flow by 20 or 30 mph. So, if the flow of traffic is 70 mph, people who weave through it (sometimes across all lanes) at 90 to 100 mph means that any change in traffic means a speeding car will likely crash…into other vehicles.
3. Lane-splitting by motorcycles. It’s legal to do so in California, but you’re supposed to do so when safe and not use the legality of lane-splitting to drive as recklessly as some motorcyclists do. I report more fatalities on the road due to motorcycle riders making unsafe lane splitting moves in the last few months. I don’t know if riders are being more stupid on the road, or the number of motorcycles has increased — which increases the likelihood of an accident. Just as an FYI, here’s the section on lane-splitting from the California DMV:
Lane splitting should not be performed by inexperienced riders. When choosing to lane split, skilled motorcycle riders should consider the following:
- Traffic flow – Travel at a speed that is no more than 10 mph faster than other traffic; danger increases at higher speed differentials. Lane splitting is not advised when traffic flow is at 30 mph or faster; danger increases as overall speed increases.
- Traffic lanes – Lane splitting is encouraged to be done between the #1 and #2 lanes; typically, it is safer to lane split in these lanes than between other lanes.
Okay, I’ve reported accidents where lane-splitting was done at 90 mph, and yes, almost always, the rider dies.
4. Commute traffic = more accidents. It’s just a matter of arithmetic…and idiocy. It doesn’t take a traffic reporter to know that people generally get in accidents when more cars are on the road. It could be stop and go traffic that results in a fender-bender, or someone brakes suddenly and loses control on their car and smashes into others. Often times, I’ll see other accidents happen around the area where a major accident occurs. Why? Well, if you guessed rubbernecking and playing with phones, you are correct.
So, it brings me back to the question I started with: will self-driving cars mean fewer accidents on the road? At first, no. Because not all cars will be self-driving. But once all cars are self-driving vehicles, then I’m going go out on a limb and say that barring computer glitches, flats, mechanical problems, or the random deer on the road, I think the accident rate will come down. But if you think human idiocy will also decrease, you got another thing coming.