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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new study from the insurance industry that suggests automated vehicles will stop only about one-third of crashes is a reminder that much of what we hear and read about AVs should be taken with a grain of salt.

The big picture: Human error plays a role in 94% of crashes, according to U.S. government statistics, which is why automation is often held up as a potential life saver.

What they did: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a well-known research organization, studied more than 5,000 crashes, separating them into five categories:

  • Sensing and perceiving errors like driver distraction (24%)
  • Predicting errors like misjudging how fast another vehicle is going (17%)
  • Planning and deciding errors like speeding or driving aggressively (39%)
  • Execution and performance errors like overreaction during a defensive maneuver (23%)
  • Incapacitation like drunken driving or falling asleep at the wheel. (10%)

What they found: IIHS concluded computer-controlled robocars will prevent about 34% of accidents, but may be no better than humans in avoiding the rest, AP reported.

Yes, but: Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, a coalition of AV companies and advocacy groups, took issue with some of the study's assumptions, which it said "raise questions about its conclusions."

Between the lines: IIHS assumed AVs will see better than humans and won't drive drunk — both reasonable assumptions — accounting for 34% of the crashes avoided.

  • The remaining two-thirds might still occur, IIHS said, unless autonomous vehicles are specifically programmed to avoid the other types of errors humans make in predicting, decision-making and execution.
  • But as PAVE wrote in a blog post, that's "like saying that a marble won’t roll very far if it's not round."

My thought bubble: Isn't this what AV developers are trying to do? Designing self-driving cars to be safer than a human is difficult, which is why it's taking so long.

  • Engineers are trying to get it right, but it's possible they'll make mistakes, which would be an entirely different type of potentially avoidable human error.

Go deeper: Why driverless cars could save far fewer lives than expected

Go deeper

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.

Far-right figure "Baked Alaska" arrested for involvement in Capitol siege

Photo: Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The FBI arrested far-right media figure Tim Gionet, known as "Baked Alaska," on Saturday for his involvement in last week's Capitol riot, according to a statement of facts filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.

The state of play: Gionet was arrested in Houston on charges related to disorderly or disruptive conduct on the Capitol grounds or in any of the Capitol buildings with the intent to impede, disrupt, or disturb the orderly conduct of a session, per AP.