The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) has just published a report on the safety levels of autonomous vehicles compared to human-driven cars.
The VTTI numbers contradict earlier back-of-the-envelope calculations by The Motley Fool. Those earlier numbers indicated that self-driving cars were involved in far more accidents (per mile driven) than traditional cars, although the accidents were all the fault of the human-driven cars.
The VTTI report is much more thorough, although it was also commissioned by Google, so of course there is a conflict of interest issue.
One of the major differences between the VTTI report and The Motley Fool calculations is that VTTI (quite reasonably) controls for the fact that many crashes go unreported. This is particularly true of crashes that result in no injuries and minimal property damage.
However, self-driving cars are required to report all crashes, so a straight comparison of uncontrolled statistics is misleading.
After adjusting the human-driver crash numbers upward (to account for unreported crashes), self-driving cars appear to be involved in far fewer accidents than human-driven cars. This is especially true for Level 3 (minimal property damage) crashes.
Originally published at www.davidincalifornia.com on January 10, 2016.