The RAND Corporation just released a study hypothesizing that auto companies will not be able to prove the safety of self-driving cars in any feasible amount of time.
The key findings of the study are:
Autonomous vehicles would have to be driven hundreds of millions of miles and sometimes hundreds of billions of miles to demonstrate their reliability in terms of fatalities and injuries.
Under even aggressive testing assumptions, existing fleets would take tens and sometimes hundreds of years to drive these miles — an impossible proposition if the aim is to demonstrate their performance prior to releasing them on the roads for consumer use.
Therefore, at least for fatalities and injuries, test-driving alone cannot provide sufficient evidence for demonstrating autonomous vehicle safety.
Developers of this technology and third-party testers will need to develop innovative methods of demonstrating safety and reliability.
Even with these methods, it may not be possible to establish with certainty the safety of autonomous vehicles. Uncertainty will remain.
In parallel to developing new testing methods, it is imperative to develop adaptive regulations that are designed from the outset to evolve with the technology so that society can better harness the benefits and manage the risks of these rapidly evolving and potentially transformative technologies.
The study includes some sophisticated econometrics and comes across as an exercise in applied math more than anything else.
Which isn’t to say that the study is wrong.
But I would be curious for a comparison between safety testing for autonomous vehicles and safety testing for new car models, or even airplanes. Or maybe let’s look at how Henry Ford safety-tested the Model T way back when.
I suspect there are situations in which this is a solved problem, and hopefully we can learn something from those scenarios that we can then apply to self-driving cars.