Are self-driving cars safe?

12 minute read Published on Jan 31, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

3D generated image of a self driving car on the street with people

The future is already here. As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to push the boundaries of innovation in the automotive industry, the question on everyone’s mind is, Are self-driving cars truly safe? Join us at BrokerLink as we navigate this complex topic so you can get a better idea of whether or not you'll be ready to purchase your own driverless car down the road.

What is a self-driving car?

An autonomous automobile, driverless car, or self-driving car is a vehicle that can navigate and function without active human input. Instead, to sense the world around them, make decisions, and navigate roadways, these cars employ an assortment of cameras, sensors, radar, lidar imaging, and sophisticated artificial intelligence. Pretty cool if you ask us.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) levels of automation is a scale that is commonly used to classify the automation levels of self-driving cars. These levels, which indicate various levels of automation, go from Level 0 to Level 5. Let’s take a closer look at each level in more detail below:

1. Level 0 (No Automation)

There is no automation involved in driving; instead, the motorist is entirely in command of the car.

2. Level 1 (Driver Assistance)

The car can help with acceleration as well as deceleration or steering, but not simultaneously. An example of this is adaptive cruise control.

3. Level 2 (Partial Automation)

In some situations, the car can handle both steering and acceleration or deceleration. Still, the driver needs to pay attention and keep an eye on what's going on around them.

4. Level 3 (Conditioned Automation)

Under some circumstances, such as driving on a highway, the motor vehicle can accomplish the majority of operating activities. Even when the driver is not in direct control, they still need to be prepared to take over in an emergency.

5. Level 4 (High Automation)

All driving functions in particular settings or circumstances can be carried out by the car without the need for human interaction. There will be times, however, when the driver will need to intervene.

6. Level 5 (Full Automation)

The car can operate autonomously in any situation and handle all driving duties without the need for human assistance.

Pros and cons of automated driving systems

The idea of self-driving cars navigating our public roads without human intervention is incredibly exciting. That said, it also brings forth a number of challenges that can be daunting to the average motorist. Because of this, we think it's essential that Canadians have a better understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of automation. Take a look below for a breakdown of each:

The advantages

Road safety

Increasing traffic safety is one of the main objectives of automated driving systems. Artificial intelligence has the ability to minimize human error, which is a significant contributor to why common car accidents happen in the first place.

Decreased traffic congestion

By enhancing vehicle coordination, autonomous vehicle systems can maximize the flow of traffic, lessen traffic, and possibly even cut down on travel times. No more running late to where you need to be!

Efficiency and fuel economy

Driving behaviours can also be optimized by automated systems, resulting in more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient driving. In other words, reduce pollution from vehicles, which is a significant contributor to global warming, which is something all of us benefit from.

Improved mobility for disadvantaged populations

Autonomous cars have the possibility of helping improve the independence of people who are unable to drive because of age, disability, or other factors by giving them more mobility.

Increased productivity

If commuters are not actively driving, they could make better use of their journey time by working, reading, or doing other things to pass the time!

Parking optimization

By carefully navigating and parking cars, automated systems can increase parking efficiency and possibly lessen the demand for huge parking spaces or parking garages.

The disadvantages

Security issues

Dependence on advanced technologies gives rise to safety concerns. Hackers may be able to jeopardize autonomous car safety and functionality in the future.

Ethical and legal challenges

There are, of course, ethical and legal difficulties that arise with self-driving cars. For example, determining who is at fault in an accident involving autonomous vehicles. Establishing regulations and liability standards is an ongoing process that involves numerous parties in government, engineering, and manufacturing.

In the end, resolving these issues will be essential for maximizing the benefits of automated driving systems while minimizing any adverse effects as technology advances and more research is carried out.

What are the safety benefits of automated vehicles?

As we briefly touched on above, automated vehicles offer a range of safety benefits to all kinds of drivers. Here are some essential safety advantages we think are worth noting further:

Reduce human error

Human error, particularly driving while intoxicated, distracted, or fatigued, is the primary cause of the majority of traffic accidents. There are likely to be fewer accidents as a result of automated cars’ ability to reduce or eliminate specific risks.

Enhanced reaction time

Compared to the average human response time, automated systems can respond to possible threats in a matter of milliseconds. This quick thinking that can help avoid accidents, particularly when making snap decisions, is essential.

Strict compliance with traffic laws

Automated cars are designed to rigorously follow traffic regulations. Lowering the frequency of infractions like speeding, running red lights, and other violations that can cause accidents can help create a safer driving environment for motorists and pedestrians alike.

Enhanced vehicle awareness

Thanks to the development of advanced sensors and perceptual technologies, automated cars are now able to see everything around them, even blind spots. This increased awareness can help avoid mishaps brought on by poor visibility.

Support in difficult conditions

Automated cars with cutting-edge sensors and analytics are better than human drivers at navigating through difficult situations like persistent rain, snow, or poor visibility.

Tips for safer driving

Speaking of safety while on the road, take a look at some safe driving tips you may have forgotten over the years:

Respect traffic laws

Pay attention to speed restrictions, traffic lights, and signage. This will help you ensure the safety of other drivers, while avoid unwanted traffic tickets and fines.

Avoid distractions

Steer clear of distractions while driving, such as texting, talking on the phone, eating, or fiddling with the radio.

Keep a safe following distance

Maintain a safe distance behind the car in front of you. In the event of unexpected stops, this enables a quicker response time.

Use turn signals

Give other drivers a heads-up of what you want to do. This facilitates smoother traffic flow by assisting other vehicles in anticipating your movements.

Check your blind spots

Prior to lane changes, always make sure to check your blind spots. This will ensure that you can make the lane change safely. Lane departure systems can also help you navigate lane changes alongside checking your blind spots.

Check the weather

Keep an eye on the local weather and adjust your driving style accordingly. In the event of rain, snow, or fog, reduce your speed and keep your distance from other cars.

Avoid driving aggressively

Remain calm and patient when driving. Driving too fast and road rage are examples of dangerous driving that increases the likelihood of collisions.

Respect work zones

Be cautious and observe the lower speed limits when in construction areas.

Track the pressure in your tires

Check and maintain the right tire pressure regularly. Tire inflation levels can have an impact on how a car handles.

Avoid driving under the influence

Never operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications as these substances.

If a vehicle is driving itself, who is liable if the vehicle crashes?

In Canada, the driver or owner of the vehicle is typically held liable for accidents, even if the vehicle is equipped with automated driving technology. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

Driver duty of car

The majority of the time, the person acting as the "operator" or the driver of the vehicle is held accountable for the vehicle's safe operation. Should an automated vehicle necessitate human involvement or oversight, the operator may be accountable for any accidents that transpire during its self-driving mode.

Manufacturer liability

Legal implications may arise when an accident is brought on by a flaw in the autonomous vehicle system or other parts of the car. If there are flaws in the automated system's development, production, or maintenance, the company that built it may be held accountable.


If the owner or operator of the automated vehicle neglects to take necessary action or if problems arise with automatic system updates or servicing, this could be taken into account for assessing liability.

In Canada, the switch to entirely driverless vehicles will take some time. It's also important to remember that rules and laws pertaining to automated vehicles are ever-changing. However, governments and authorities are proactively tackling the obstacles posed by self-driving cars, such as concerns around responsibility. It should also be noted that responsibility regulations may vary between provinces and territories in the future if not structured federally.

How do you insure self-driving vehicles?

Due to the rapidly changing nature of modern technology and a possible shift in responsibility from human motorists to the manufacturers or engineers of computerized systems, insurance for self-driving or autonomous cars presents special challenges that have yet to be determined. However, there are many types of auto insurance that may still be applicable to self-driving vehicles in the future. Here is a closer look below:

Collision coverage

One kind of auto insurance is collision car coverage, which offers financial security in the event that your car is wrecked in an accident involving another car or an immobile object. This coverage assists in paying for the expenses of auto repairs up to the amount of the vehicle's true cash value minus the deductible, which is the amount you agree to pay out of pocket. Although collision insurance is not required by law, it is often recommended for vehicles that are newer or valuable since it can assist in guaranteeing that replacement or repair expenses will be met in the event of a car crash.

Comprehensive coverage

An insurance policy known as comprehensive coverage guards your car against harm not brought on by an accident. This encompasses incidents like theft, vandalism, encounters with animals, severe weather and specific kinds of falling objects. Comprehensive car coverage is voluntary, much like collision coverage, but it can be necessary if you have a car loan or lease your vehicle directly from a dealership. The insurance pays for replacement or repairs up to the vehicle's actual cash value minus the amount of deductible that the policyholder selects.

Accident forgiveness

Some insurance companies provide a benefit called accident forgiveness that protects clients from premium rate hikes after their first at-fault collision. By doing so, it effectively "forgives" the policyholder and keeps what happened from having an effect on their auto insurance rates. Accident forgiveness is frequently added as a supplementary benefit or may be given as an incentive to drivers with no prior accidents. However, it is not always included in policies. This feature reduces the financial impact of a single at-fault collision, giving peace of mind and reward advantages to drivers who drive carefully, all in an effort to uphold safe driving practices.

Liability coverage

A vital part of coverage is liability car insurance, which protects your finances in the event that you are held legally responsible for an accident that leads to bodily injury or damage to the property of another person. While property damage coverage helps with the replacement or repair costs of the other party's belongings, such as their vehicle or any structures involved in the accident, bodily injury coverage helps pay for medical expenditures, rehab costs, and legal fees that may arise. Third-party liability insurance is a mandatory policy that all drivers in Canada must hold.

Electric car insurance

A specific type of auto insurance intended to meet the needs of electric vehicles is known as electric car insurance (EV insurance). This kind of insurance covers the unique factors that come with driving an electric vehicle, like the price and accessibility of spare parts, the need for specialist maintenance, and the unique risks posed by battery packs. In addition to providing traditional auto insurance protections like liability, accident, and comprehensive coverage, electric car insurance may also include specialized coverage for things like charging equipment, battery problems, and other EV-specific elements.

The greater initial cost of electric cars and the specialized knowledge needed for repairs are factors that insurers consider when calculating insurance premiums. With the increasing demand for eco-friendly transportation, insurance companies are modifying their policies to give comprehensive and tailored protection for electric automobiles.

Are car crashes frequent with automated vehicles?

Based on information from self-driving car manufacturers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency's study estimates that between July 2021 and May 2022, there were nearly 400 crashes using somewhat autonomous vehicles. Of these, 273 collisions were reported by Tesla, accounting for roughly 70% of the overall total for this time period. On the other hand, Honda reported 90 crashes, which is the second-highest number following Tesla.

Contact BrokerLink today

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Are self-driving cars safe FAQs

Are self-driving cars really safe?

Self-driving vehicles have the capacity to improve traffic safety by mitigating human error, which is a primary contributor to collisions. However, problems still exist, such as unanticipated events and cybersecurity threats. To overcome these issues, ongoing developments, rigorous testing, laws and regulations have to be put in place. Although autonomous vehicles have great potential, their safety will depend on ongoing technology advancements and rigorous laws in the future.

Are self-driving cars 100% safe?

No, autonomous vehicles are not entirely safe. Despite their potential to improve road safety by lowering human error rates, difficulties still exist. Risks include unanticipated events, unpredictable driving conditions, and the potential for technology failures.

A complete guarantee of safety is a process that takes time to achieve, even with constant algorithmic improvements, testing, and more that is carried out by developers. At the end of the day, it comes down to the collaboration amongst different industries, which is an ongoing process that is far from being complete.

What is the main problem with self-driving cars?

The primary obstacle facing self-driving automobiles is how difficult it is to navigate unpredictably changing environments in the real world. Although sophisticated sensors and algorithms facilitate efficient decision-making in regulated settings, difficulties emerge in chaotic and unforeseen circumstances.

The unpredictable nature of human drivers, road construction, and bad weather are some of the obstacles facing existing self-driving cars. Achieving a balance really is essential to managing the complexities of self-driving vehicles and guaranteeing the full implementation of these technologies.

Will automated vehicles be more vulnerable to hacking?

In truth, because driverless cars depend so heavily on intricate software and networking, they may be more susceptible to hacking. For example, the connectivity of cameras, sensors, and communication devices exposes possible hacker entry sites. As such, the possibility of hacking may jeopardize vital operations, endangering data security and passenger safety.

Although developers are hard at work creating strong cybersecurity defences, staying ahead of any threats requires constant effort due to the ever-changing nature of tech. Beyond that, in order to minimize vulnerabilities and guarantee the security of automated vehicles on the road, strict cybersecurity regulations and protocols must be implemented.

How does the safety record of self-driving cars influence insurance pricing and coverage?

As you know, car accidents affect insurance premiums set by insurance providers. But what does that mean for self-driving vehicles with safe driving histories? It’s difficult to tell, given that the automotive industry has yet to reach complete automation. Insurance rates for self-driving cars may be lowered if the vehicle has a good safety record with few serious incidents. On the other hand, a less spectacular safety record might lead to increased rates or stricter coverage specifications.

At the end of the day, insurance companies keep a careful eye on the rapidly evolving technology sector and will modify their pricing models to account for the real risk that self-driving cars pose to drivers when the time comes to do so.

If you have any questions, contact one of our local branches.