Will self-driving cars cause accidents or prevent them?

Autonomous vehicles are under development by a number of auto manufacturers and other companies, notably Google. The promise of self-driving cars is that they will not only be convenient for travelers, but will greatly reduce car accidents. Some reports indicate that wide adoption of driverless vehicles could reduce car accidents by 90 percent, saving 300,000 lives over the course of a decade. These estimates take into account information showing that the use of autonomous driving systems is safer, because computers make fewer mistakes than humans.

Now, however, there is one car accident critics can point to that was caused by a self-driving car. Google made public an accident report filed with the California DMV regarding a February 14 crash involving one of its autonomous vehicles. Google reported that one of its Lexus SUVs was autonomously driving itself on a California street and stopped when it detected sand bags in the road. The vehicle waited for several cars to pass and then merged to pass the sand bags, striking the side of a public transit bus. The human test driver in the vehicle said that he did not intervene because he thought the bus would yield.

Google admitted only that “we clearly bear some responsibility” in the accident. Despite the incident, auto safety experts say that autonomous vehicles are expected to save lives. In 2014, there were 32,675 deaths from car accidents in the United States, and 2,494 in Florida alone.