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Could increasing vehicle automation dramatically improve the safety of New York highways? Tech enthusiasts have long answered in the affirmative. The market appears to agree with manufacturers introducing more sensors and driver assistance technologies each year. Research on crash data, however, suggests that simply trading in human drivers for computers will have a limited effect on car accident rates across the U.S. The most profound safety gains will require an overall change in driver priorities.

A study performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that replacing all human drivers with computers could eliminate one-third of motor vehicle accidents. Though significant, the finding undercuts the ideal of transport in near-perfect safety. It also raises the question of why computers can’t deliver better than a one-third reduction of accidents. The answer was found by researchers who studied what actually causes accidents in the first place.

Using a sample of some 5,000 police reports, researchers found five distinct subgroups of errors. Computers could only be expected to prevent two of those subgroups, namely “sensing and perceiving” errors and “incapacitation” errors. The lead author of the study argued that automated vehicles could conceivably prevent more car accidents, but the designers would have to prioritize safety over passenger convenience and speed.

As people await the promise of safer New York roads through automation, pedestrians and motorists alike remain at risk of negligent drivers. Victims of motor vehicle accidents often suffer lost wages, injuries that require long-term care and permanent disabilities. These and other, less tangible damages can in turn cause financial distress and damage relationships. However, a personal injury lawyer may help in the recovery of damages and prevent a bad situation from becoming far worse.

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