Cyclists on the road

The Emergence of Autonomous Cars: What Does it Mean for Cyclists?

As cyclists, we can’t help but wonder if the new driverless cars will help or hurt us out on the road. While we currently face dangers posed by distracted, angry, and ignorant human drivers (ahem, the recent butt dart ordeal), how reliable are self-driving vehicles? Will they create safer roads or increase the level of risk?

Here’s a look at the different sides of this issue.

Current Traffic Accident Stats

Let’s start with the fact that 94% of all car accidents in the U.S. are due to human error or choice. The result? Each year, 35,000 people die from traffic collisions. In 2015, 818 of those fatalities were cyclists. The question is, will the errors caused by the technology in self-driving cars be fewer than those made by humans?

Benefits vs. Risks of Self-Driving Cars

According to the Atlantic, researchers have reported that driverless cars could reduce traffic fatalities by 90 percent. In the U.S., this translates into about 30,000 lives total and 720 cyclists saved per year. However, there are concerns about the potential blind spots of the tech and the transition period when self-driving cars are sharing the road with human drivers.

Here’s a look at the progress so far and the beginning phases of the transition to self-driving vehicles.

Companies Leading the Path to Autonomous Cars:


Waymo, a spin-off from Google’s parent company, has self-driving vehicles on public roads every day. Their vehicles have already clocked over three million miles, mostly on complex city streets. The cars have sensors and software to detect other users on the roadways including cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. They have demonstrated they can navigate complex scenarios such as railroad crossings and lane changes. Further, they are programmed to drive defensively, so they move away from large vehicles and avoid blind spots. Waymo reports show there have been several accidents during their testing. However, only one was the fault of the self-driving car.

Tesla Motors

Another key player in the automated car space is Tesla Motors. So far its fleet has clocked around 300 million miles driven with Autopilot active. However, with this experimentation, we also saw the first death caused by a self-driving car in 2016. While the passenger was relaxing and watching a movie, the car failed to see the side of a large white 18-wheel truck and trailer. It attempted to drive under the trailer at full speed and totaled the car, killing the passenger. Tesla’s response was that while autopilot is getting better all of the time, it is not perfect yet and still requires consumers to pay attention and “keep their hands on the wheel.”

What Self-Driving Cars Mean for Cyclists

The stats show that self-driving cars do have the potential to remove human error in many situations, however, they also have blind spots. There are situations where mistakes will be made, and they can cause fatalities.

As cyclists, we are of the most vulnerable to driver mistakes on roadways because we are without the protection of a two-ton vehicle. While autonomous cars are being programmed to respond appropriately to our presence, we still need to be aware that, like human drivers, they make mistakes. Only time will tell if the hopeful statistics predicting the reduction of accidents will become a reality that benefits cyclists as well as other motorists.

At Bike Legal, we understand the devastation that comes as a result of being involved in an accident while cycling. Legal representation from an attorney who knows bike laws is in your best interest in order to win a cycling and personal injury case. Call (800) 449-4850 to schedule a free consultation today.