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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

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

Biden's Russian sanctions likely to achieve little

President Biden announces new sanctions against Russia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there's little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin's behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.