Blog: Safety is the core mission for the AV industry

By Jeff Farrah, Executive Director of AVIA

Autonomous vehicles will revolutionize the way people and goods are moved. Using advanced technology such as sensors and machine learning to navigate the road, AVs make decisions without the need for a human driver behind the wheel. Safety is the core mission for the autonomous vehicle industry. The industry refuses to accept the tens of thousands of fatalities and injuries on American roads due to vehicle crashes. AVs offer a better way and will save American lives.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has written that “vehicle safety promises to be one automation’s biggest benefits. Higher levels of automation…remove the human driver from the chain of events that can lead to a crash.” After all, autonomous vehicles never drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy. Unfortunately, human drivers are capable of all these things, and the result is more than 40,000 lives lost in 2022, with significant increases in crashes on rural interstates, and among motorcyclists, pedestrians, cyclists, and trucks. Secretary Buttigieg has stated the problem:

“Just to be very clear, human drivers aren’t just problematic. They are murderous. And we have been bathed in this level of carnage all of our lives. [We’re] a bit like people who grow up in a place that’s experiencing a war, in terms of how normal we think that is.”

NHTSA has confirmed the overwhelming majority of crashes are caused by human error (e.g. speeding; impairment). To mark April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month, NHTSA released new data on the 3,522 lives lost in 2021 due to dangerous distractions like cell phones, eating, or adjusting the radio. Another NHTSA study found that about 56% of road users killed or seriously hurt in car crashes tested positive for alcohol or drugs. As Dalvin Brown of the Washington Post wrote: “Humans get distracted by texting, while cars don’t care what your friends have to say. Humans might miss objects obscured by their vehicle’s blind spot. Lidar can pick those things up, and 360 cameras should work even if your eyes get tired.”

Why AVs are safe

I have been in AVs on several occasions, from passenger cars in Florida and California, to trucks in Texas. In each instance, I have been incredibly impressed by the conservative nature of the AV, whether in navigating other vehicles, stopping at stop signs, or strictly obeying traffic laws. Many passengers describe riding in an autonomous vehicle as an almost boring experience. That’s a compliment!

Autonomous vehicles are safer than human drivers because they are built to be model drivers that follow the rules of the road and make safe decisions, even in complex, everyday traffic situations. Autonomous vehicles are programmed to drive at or below the speed limit, cede a lane to another vehicle that is merging in an aggressive fashion, and approach pedestrians with tremendous caution. For example, I love this video from AVIA-member Cruise that shows one of its vehicles cautiously moving through a difficult environment. Contrast that careful decision making with the at times reckless behavior of human drivers.

AVs can achieve this model behavior because they use advanced technology - such as Lidar, radar, and cameras–to give 360 degree visibility to the automated driving system (ADS). This gives AVs vastly more information than human drivers possess to avoid crashes. I rode in an autonomous truck outside Dallas and observed the incredible amount of information the vehicle collected from freeway on-ramps that were obstructed by walls and brush. The reality is a human would nothave the ability to collect as much information about road conditions as an autonomous vehicle.


Furthermore, studies have shown that AVs can make decisions faster than a person. Sadly, human drivers are often unable to make a quick enough decision to avoid a crash because of an unanticipated impediment or their eyes were focused on another part of the road.

The ability of AVs to prevent crashes has been demonstrated. For example, Waymo reconstructed fatal crashes in Arizona to see how their technology would have handled the situation. The research showed that autonomous vehicles would have “avoided or mitigated” 88 out of 91 total crashes.

AVs are also superior to human drivers at protecting vulnerable road users. For example, AVs are developed to detect pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. AVs can recognize the habits of these road users, recognize their habits, and then safely respond to their unique behaviors. This is due to extensive testing AVs undertake in simulation and on test tracks that expose the vehicles to an array of scenarios.

Autonomous vehicles are also adept at dealing with emergency situations, whereas human drivers sometimes exacerbate these situations for first responders. AVs use sensors to recognize emergency response and police vehicles, and detect their appearance, sirens, and emergency lights. It is also important to note that in states that have authorized AVs, the underlying legislation has tended to require a Law Enforcement Interaction Plan. This plan requires that before AVs are rolled out on public roads that state and local law enforcement are told how to communicate with the fleet specialist for a vehicle and safely remove the AV from the roadway.


Autonomous vehicles will make our roads safer and save lives. This technology is not a moment too soon, as our country faces an epidemic of road fatalities that must be corrected. The AV industry is focused on advancing life-saving technology for the benefit of humanity and the future is incredibly exciting.