WATCH | Who’s to blame when driverless cars crash?

Companies are developing new sensing algorithms in a bid to understand the dynamics of driving data to find out who – or what – is at fault when autonomous vehicles have an accident. Reuters’ Matthew Stock investigates.

Driverless cars are just around the corner. Advocates say autonomous vehicles could eventually save thousands of lives every year. But does that mean cars without a human at the wheel won’t ever crash?

“Autonomous vehicles do crash and they do kill people. And this is something that will continue to happen because at the moment we don’t have autonomous pedestrians, or autonomous cyclists,” Jonathan Hewett, global chief marketing officer, Octo Telematics, saying.

The problem lies in putting driverless cars onto roads alongside other existing forms of traffic. In this already congested space, understanding who — or what — is at fault will be vital.

“The roads are going to be a difficult and complicated place. And in that complicated place, the data and the analytics to know precisely who is doing what at any given time is immutable, it’s something that we have to know,” Hewett, saying.

And knowing exactly what’s happened during a crash is no mean feat. Octo Telematics says it’s analysed 136 billion miles of driving data and 358,000 crashes to optimise its algorithms. It analyses driver and vehicle data gathered using on-board tech, such as black boxes.

Eventually, autonomous driving should minimise human error. But analysts say in the event of an accident, the blame will shift to manufacturers, rather than human drivers. Crash analytics will be vital for insurers and car makers to improve safety.

“Motor manufacturers need to know whether it’s their hardware or software at fault or whether it’s the driver, and what the dynamic is when other third parties are involved outside of just autonomous or connected vehicles,” Hewett, saying.

BMW, Ford and Jaguar Land Rover are among the major manufacturers racing to develop self-driving cars. Leading the pack is Google, thanks in part to its tech expertise, while Apple has hinted the wheels are in motion for its own self-driving system.