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Approaching autonomous driving with cautious optimism: analysis of road traffic injuries involving autonomous vehicles based on field test data
  1. Wanbao Ye1,
  2. Chuanlin Wang2,
  3. Fuxiang Chen1,
  4. Shuzhen Yan1,
  5. Liping Li1
  1. 1 Injury Prevention Research Center, Shantou University Medical College, Shantou, China
  2. 2 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, Shantou University, Shantou, China
  1. Correspondence to Dr Liping Li, Injury Preventive Research Center, Shantou University Medical College, Shantou 515041, China; lpli{at}


Objectives To examine the patterns and associated factors of road traffic injuries (RTIs) involving autonomous vehicles (AVs) and to discuss the public health implications and challenges of autonomous driving.

Methods Data were extracted from the reports of traffic crashes involving AVs. All the reports were submitted to the California Department of Motor Vehicles by manufacturers with permission to operate AV test on public roads. Descriptive analysis and χ2 analysis or Fisher’s exact test was conducted to describe the injury patterns and to examine the influencing factors of injury outcomes, respectively. Binary logistic regression using the Wald test was employed to calculate the OR, adjusted OR (AOR) and 95% CIs. A two-tailed probability (p<0.05) was adopted to indicate statistical significance.

Results 133 reports documented 24 individuals injured in 19 crashes involving AVs, with the overestimated incidence rate of 18.05 per 100 crashes. 70.83% of the injured were AV occupants, replacing vulnerable road users as the leading victims. Head and neck were the most commonly injured locations. Driving in poor lighting was at greater risk of RTIs (AOR 6.37, 95% CI 1.47 to 27.54). Collisions with vulnerable road users or incidents happening during commute periods led to a greater number of victims (p<0.05). Autonomous mode cannot perform better than conventional mode in road traffic safety to date (p=0.468).

Conclusions Poor lighting improvement and the regulation of commute-period traffic and vulnerable road users should be strengthened for AV-related road safety. So far AVs have not demonstrated the potential to dramatically reduce RTIs. Cautious optimism about AVs is more advisable, and multifaceted efforts, including legislation, smarter roads, and knowledge dissemination campaigns, are fairly required to accelerate the development and acceptance.

  • engineering
  • public health
  • social marketing
  • motor vehicle occupant

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open-access repository.