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An AV test area in Chongqing, China. Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Part of the promise of self-driving cars is that they will be exceptionally safe. As Toyota puts it, vehicles should be "incapable of causing an accident." However, even if a car doesn’t directly cause accidents, it might create minor hazards that make it more likely that others will cause an accident.

Why it matters: There’s more to being a good driver than never being at fault for an accident. AVs should not just “do no harm”; they should “do good” by making the road a safer environment for all road users.

Background: Beyond obviously unsafe behaviors, many minor hazards affect roadway safety. For example, a car rapidly changing lanes creates dangers for the cars it cuts off, which can be mitigated by other cars that make extra room in their lanes. And conservative driving is not always good driving — sometimes it's the dawdling or timid vehicle that causes problems.

The challenge for self-driving vehicles is that being a good driver requires sophisticated decision-making and a basic ability to understand other drivers' future actions. At the simplest level, it means not rapidly stopping when a traffic light turns red if there’s a fast-moving car close behind. In more complex cases, it also means understanding that a pedestrian entering a crosswalk is waiting for the car to cross, even though the pedestrian has the right of way.

What to watch: The development of “good driving” technology is the most important, and most exciting, area of development for self-driving cars. An autonomous car must be able to see far enough (and at high enough resolution) to understand what other road users are doing, and so emerging sensor technologies will be important — especially at higher speeds.

However, decision-making technology is arguably even more critical. Many self-driving vehicles seem to drive poorly (getting rear-ended, frustrating other road users) even at very low speeds, where current sensor performance is already adequate. This suggests that decision-making, not sensing, is the greatest bottleneck for self-driving vehicles.

The bottom line: Self-driving vehicle companies should not be adding more “so-so drivers” to the road, which makes driving more dangerous for everyone. AV companies should instead work to develop good drivers that not only avoid major accidents, but also make the roads safer by understanding how their behavior will interact with others.

Edwin Olson is the CEO of May Mobility and an associate professor of computer science at the University of Michigan.

Go deeper

Europe's energy reliance on Russia is a crucial shield for Putin

Photo: Pavel Bednyakov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Cracks in the NATO alliance regarding sanctions for Russia should President Vladimir Putin order troops into Ukraine are in large part based on energy supply concerns.

Why it matters: Russia holds tremendous leverage over some European countries because it provides roughly 40% of Europe's natural gas supply. In Germany, this figure is greater than 50%.

Why the Fed might want to jolt the markets

Fed chair Jerome Powell at a hearing earlier this month. Photo: Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images

So far, financial markets are cooperating nicely with the Federal Reserve's efforts to restrain inflation. They're doing the Fed's work for it by creating tighter financial conditions, in a distinctly non-panicky way.

  • But as the central bank's policymakers meet this week, an underlying question they face is whether the adjustment is happening too slowly.
Kate Marino, author of Markets
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views of their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of canceled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.