More than 38,000 lives are lost on US roadways each year due to car crashes. That number exceeds the population of West Hollywood, and is equivalent to the number of citizens in all of Liechtenstein. Furthermore, another 4.4 million US incidents are serious enough that drivers require medical attention.

Are autonomous vehicles the answer to limiting road fatalities?

Researchers estimate that autonomous vehicles could reduce the number of road fatalities by as much as 94%. Autonomous systems may vary in their capabilities, but their performance is consistent across conditions. They can’t exhibit road rage, they also can’t operate under the influence, and they can’t grow distracted by the hungry child in the backseat.

Or will autonomous vehicles result in additional accidents?

Autonomous vehicles operate at the speed limit, making them slower-moving than many human-operated vehicles. As a result, aggressive drivers may grow frustrated with autonomous vehicles, tailing them to the point where an accident results.

A word from experts:

“Really, the jury’s still out [on the safety of autonomous vehicles], and what we need is lots of data. We know a lot about human-caused crashes, because we’ve been studying that for 100 years. We don’t have the same level of data, the same breadth of data, on automated vehicles. Not even close. So to really be sure on the effects, we need to acquire and analyze lots of data.”

Leveling up:

Autonomous vehicles are categorized according to the level of human interaction (or lack thereof) required for operation. According to a new report, the Worldwide Autonomous Vehicle Forecast, 2020-2024, “vehicles with some degree of automation (SAE Levels 1-5) will represent more than 50% of all vehicles produced by 2024.”

For more on autonomous vehicles and the driverless future, visit Tech Republic.