Another challenge autonomous technology will have to overcome
It makes sense that the harder it rains, the more likely people are to crash. But is driving in light rain really that risky? According to a new study from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the answer is yes.
As the Associated Press reports, the study found that even light rain significantly increases the risk of a fatal wreck by 27 percent. And when they say light, they really mean it. “We’re talking a drizzle, just at the point where you might consider taking an umbrella out,” the study’s lead author Scott Stevens told the AP. Overall, the study confirmed that as roads get wetter, they get deadlier. Rain, snow, and ice increased the risk of fatal wrecks by 34 percent.
The study looked at 125,012 deadly crashes that took place in the continental United States from 2006 to 2011. It also took into account how many cars were on the road and used weather radar data to more precisely calculate the risk of a fatal wreck. “People slow down when it starts to rain heavily, but I think they under-appreciate the risk of light rain,” Stevens said.
As for moderate rain, the study found that it increased fatal accident risk by 75 percent, while heavy rain raises that risk by nearly 250 percent. When the data was broken down by region, the Northern Rockies and Upper Midwest had the highest risk, while the Northeast and Southeast had the lowest. Stevens speculated that difference could be caused by increased urbanization on the East Coast.
While the obvious takeaway is that drivers should slow down and drive more cautiously when it’s raining or snowing, it’s also a good reminder that we have yet to see any demonstration of a self-driving prototype that can safely handle inclement weather. It may be possible for the most advanced driver-assist systems to handle most of the driving on well-maintained roads in perfect weather, but we’re probably a long way away from a Waymo taxi or Tesla with Autopilot being able to safely handle a torrential downpour in Houston or a blizzard in Boston.
Source: Associated Press