Long-term benefits outweigh autonomous vehicle risks

September 1, 2023
Concept illustration of an autonomous vehicle in a city. Image credit: Nicole Smith, made with Midjourney


Self-driving car companies have hit a pothole, of sorts, with some autonomous taxis involved in traffic accidents on the West Coast. University of Michigan experts say traffic and safety concerns over driverless vehicles could become setbacks to manufacturers Waymo and Cruise if the performance data in various conditions isn’t conducted at the highest standards.

Jim Rampton, a lecturer at the U-M School of Information, is a former lead designer at General Motors, where he worked for five years on designing the interfaces for all of their major brands. He teaches Automotive User Experience Design to both undergraduate and graduate students.

“Companies such as Cruise and Waymo are continuously learning from different cities as they expand,” he said. “The best way to learn is by trial and error, and sometimes that results in accidents. I know firsthand that Cruise is doing everything in its power to avoid accidents, and customers should not be dismayed when thinking about using these ride-hailing services.

“Just like any new technology there is inherent risk, but the long-term benefits far outweigh these risks. The safest way to improve this technology is by slowly getting real-world data, and that is what they are doing. This is going to take time. However, I don’t think we should be removing these vehicles from the cities because that hinders companies like Cruise from getting real world data.”

Contact: rampton@umich.edu

Lionel Robert is a professor at the U-M School of Information and director of the Michigan Autonomous Vehicle Research Intergroup Collaboration.

“We should acknowledge the limitations of autonomous vehicles and ensure that they comply with the same or better safety standards that we demand from human drivers,” he said. “These evaluations need to be backed up with performance data around testing done in various conditions. This is likely to result in restrictions regarding when, where and under what conditions they should be employed.

“But, we should be careful to separate discussions derived from legitimate safety concerns from those driven by fear of job loss and anxiety about the future. The former should drive policy around safety while the latter should be reserved for politics.”

Contact: 734-764-5296, lprobert@umich.edu