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Are Automated Vehicles Struck-from-Behind at Different Rates than Human Driven Vehicles?

November 8th 2021

Automated vehicles are becoming more and more commonplace in today’s society. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the safety benefits of automated vehicles are paramount. The potential for automated vehicles to help save lives and reduce injuries is large, as 94% of serious vehicle crashes are due to human error [1]. According to NHTSA, automated vehicles have the potential to remove human error from the picture, which would have beneficial effects for drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians [1]. This notion however, does raise an interesting question: absent human error, do automated vehicles and their control systems/artificial intelligence also commit errors?

Researchers have begun to explore this idea in recent years. More specifically, a 2021 study by Goodall [2] sought to determine whether automated vehicles, or AVs, are struck from behind at higher rates per distance traveled compared to conventional vehicles, and to explore potential causes. As with all science, Goodall acknowledges that the research does have its limitations, but the findings were interesting and insightful, nonetheless. According to Goodall, [2] previous studies had found that AV crashes occur at lower rates than those of human-driven vehicles. However, this study was the first to examine struck-from-behind crashes.

Results showed that AVs were struck from behind at higher rates than conventional vehicles [2]. Further, when compared to human driven-vehicles, AVs are more likely to be struck from behind when stopped than when moving, which suggests that the timing and locations of AV stops may contribute to crashes (as opposed to deceleration behavior) [2]. Regardless, the demands that will be placed on AVs, and more specifically, their programmers and developers, are high. The need for AVs to not only perceive the environment around them, but also to appropriately predict, plan, decide, and execute behaviors in response to what they perceive is paramount [3].


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[2] Goodall NJ. Comparison of automated vehicle struck-from-behind crash rates with national rates using naturalistic data. Accid Anal Prev. 2021 May;154:106056. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2021.106056. Epub 2021 Mar 20. PMID: 33756426.

[3] Mueller AS, Cicchino JB, Zuby DS. What humanlike errors do autonomous vehicles need to avoid to maximize safety? J Safety Res. 2020 Dec;75:310-318. doi: 10.1016/j.jsr.2020.10.005. Epub 2020 Nov 15. PMID: 33334489.