Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?

For many of us, self-driving cars still sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but in reality, they populate the roads more and more every day. Whether or not you plan on getting behind the self-steering wheel, there is important information you need to know to stay safe while driving.

What Does “Self-Driving” Mean?

While self-driving has become a catch-all term, all of the “self-driving” cars available today cannot actually drive themselves. Instead, they’re considered “automated.” The Society of Automotive Engineers has created a scale to define the different levels of possible automation.

Level 0 (Momentary Driver Assistance): The (human) driver needs to perform all functions.

Level 1 (Driver Assistance): There are some automated features, like acceleration/deceleration or steering assistance.

Level 2 (Additional Assistance): The car can assist with both acceleration/deceleration and steering, but the driver must remain fully attentive and perform maneuvers like responding to traffic signals and changing lanes. 

Level 3 (Conditional Assistance): Under the right conditions, the car can handle most of the driving, but the driver must be able to quickly intervene if instructed by the car.

Level 4 (High Automation): The car doesn’t require any human input unless driving in unusual conditions (like in bad weather or unusual geographic areas).

Level 5 (Full Automation): The driver never needs to intervene. The car is fully automated. 

Not all of these different levels exist, and not all of the levels that do exist are legal at this time. Right now in the United States, no vehicles with Level 3 technology (or higher) are available for consumer purchase.

What Are Safety Benefits and Risks?


We still can’t be sure of the full benefits of automated cars, but there are many ways automation could significantly reduce the safety hazards that come with driving. 

Reduction in risky behavior

While you shouldn’t get behind the wheel at all if you’re impaired, self-driving technology may be able to minimize fatigue- or substance-related accidents.

Less human error

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 94% of car accidents are caused by human error. Automated driving systems could potentially lower these types of crashes by 90%. 

More accessibility

Highly automated vehicles have the potential to give people with disabilities a safe way of traveling independently. 


Incompatible infrastructure

Our roads and highways weren’t built for automated cars, which may make it harder for them to navigate different environments and could lead to more accidents. 

Computer malfunctions

Self-driving technology is still relatively new, and all technology is prone to errors, which means the sensors and cameras on automated vehicles may not operate smoothly or worse, may completely fail without notice. 

Decision making

One of the biggest concerns surrounding automated cars is their ability to employ human intuition and common sense. For example, they don’t know how to stop for crossing pedestrians, which unfortunately led to the first pedestrian fatality caused by an automated vehicle.


Self-driving technology is still in its early stages, which makes it hard to decide who is liable when accidents do occur. While the automated cars available today are still driven by a human driver, policymakers are already faced with the difficult task of deciding insurance frameworks will look like as cars become more fully automated.

Avoid Self-Driving Dangers With These Tips

If you do decide to get an automated vehicle (or already have one), make sure to follow these tips to stay safe on the road.

Don’t rely on the system

Level 2 automation requires the driver to be fully attentive at all times. Still, it can be easy to put too much trust in the acceleration or steering features. The technology used in these cars is not perfect. For example, poorly marked lanes could cause the vehicle to drift where it’s not supposed to. 

Prioritize your own judgement. 

Similarly, you need to rely on human judgement. Although automated cars can predict and react to some situations more quickly than we could, they don’t have the same intuition and instincts. With the current level of technology available, it’s best to rely on your own judgement when it comes to making driving decisions. 

Check the vehicle’s safety rating

While manufacturers test their cars and must comply with different federal regulations, it’s always best when a vehicle has been tested by multiple organizations. Anyone looking to buy an automated car in the future will be able to look to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which recently announced that it is creating a rating program for automated vehicles. 

Stay vigilant

Whether you’re sharing the road with an automated vehicle or driving one yourself, staying alert is critical to keeping everyone safe. Make sure you’re using your defensive driving skills: look out and prepare for unexpected actions, don’t expect automated vehicles (or any vehicles) to do what you want them to do, and always control your speed.

As automated cars become more common, it’s more important than ever to brush up on your driving skills. Contact us today to learn how our driving courses can help you feel confident no matter what kind of wheel you get behind.