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Personal injury: Are self-driving cars really that safe?

Self-driving technology seems to be all the rage today. While the technology is still being tested in places like Arizona, California and even here in Washington, many industry experts and lawmakers agree that self-driving cars will be the way of the future.

One of the many features of fully autonomous vehicles touted by the industry is that they will make roads safer. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed the lives of 3,477 people and injured an estimated 391,000 in 2015. Furthermore, the organization estimates that 660,000 people use their cellphones, smartphones or GPS devices while driving.

Therefore, experts reason that self-driving cars can save us from ourselves. Computers are not distracted by smartphones, the radio dial or children fighting in the backseat.

They also don't need at least eight hours of sleep each night. According to a recent study by AAA, losing even two to three hours of sleep makes your reaction times similar to if you were driving drunk. This has major implications for the shipping and delivery industry, where commercial truck driver fatigue often results in catastrophic accidents.

If the computer drives, all of these problems become things of the past. You could even take a snooze on your way to work!

Don't celebrate yet

Unfortunately, self-driving technology still has a long way to go. Confidence in the overall safety of self-driving cars was jarred this past week when a woman was struck and killed by a self-driving car in Arizona. This is the first known pedestrian fatality in the self-driving tech boom.

It appears that the car struck her while she was crossing the street with her bike, and did not even slow down. Investigators are working with the car's company, Uber, to determine what went wrong and why the car's back-up human driver could not intervene in time to prevent the crash.

It's too early to say whether legal action will be taken. But this incident raises another question that still needs answering: Who is responsible for accidents caused by self-driving cars? Theoretically, industry experts argue, there will be no more accidents in a future where autonomous vehicles rule the roads. Clearly, however, there is still a long way to go before that happens.

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