Autonomous Cars and Misleading Headlines

The Associated Press attached a very misleading headline to a story about the expected collision rate of the autonomous cars of the near future.

This is their published headline:

Study: Autonomous vehicles won’t make roads completely safe

The headline is technically true. No autonomous car technology will ever prevent all car accidents. Nor will it allow passengers to lose weight by eating donuts on the way to their destination.

But this is what the study actually found:

  • Auto safety experts say humans cause about 94% of U.S. crashes
  • Autonomous cars are expected to stop about 33% of those crashes

The second point was written as:

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study says computer-controlled robocars will only stop about one-third of them.

Only?

Roughly 35,000 people die on US roads each year. Over a million people per year die in crashes globally. Billions of dollars in property are damaged in these accidents. Per the NHTSA, speed-related crashes alone cost Americans over $40 billion each year.

AP writers decided that preventing one-third of these accidents with computer programming and sensors was somehow disappointing. The expectations of any technology are always outsized. Journalists and the public then dismiss huge advances and years of engineering labor because the technology didn’t meet the inflated statistic it was, perhaps unfairly, expected to meet.

Photo by Michael Jin on Unsplash