The real risk against perceived risk: why our fear of the planes and the autonomous car

This morning we woke up with the that could be considered the first fatal accident recorded in the history of an autonomous vehicle. What of the autonomous car is relative, since it was a Tesla Model S that circulated with his Autopilot activated when you hit a truck, causing the death of its driver. Many agree that this accident may be a big setback for the adoption of autonomous car. I want to take advantage of the situation to talk to you about the trade-off between the real danger and the perceived risk.

According to Peter Sandman, the risk is the sum of a hazard and the potential uproar, the scandal, this caused.

dr. Peter Sandman is a sociologist estadoundiense that in the 80’s coined an excellent definition of risk. In English it would be something like “Risk=Hazard+Outrage”. That is to say, that defines risk as the sum of danger and scandal – stir caused by this. Since then, this formula has been widely used in cases in which the public opinion has a strong reaction to an event or communication. Forsake all that I have written, because it is a mere introduction. It looks much better with a practical example, that has nothing to do with cars.

consejos-viajes-comidas-cenas-navidad-00One of the main causes of death in adults are the cardiovascular diseases, arising from a sedentary life style, lack of exercise and unhealthy nutrition. It is a clear danger, but hardly anyone pays the problem the attention it deserves. It is perceived as a low risk, because it does not produce public scandals, cries popular or resignations of politicians. An opposite example that clarifies the concept even more: fatal shark attacks on humans by sharks on tropical beaches.

Sometimes, we perceive a much higher risk of the real, especially in situations in which we do not know some of the variables.

The year, more people die by attacks of cows – yes, cows – which, by the attack of sharks. However, we perceive them as very real the risk of shark attack. Sobrestimamos this risk because we believe unconsciously that the possibility of attack is much higher than the actual. When there is a shark attack, all the news and newspapers sensationalized echo of the incident. Install barriers in bays and beaches, the Coast Guard does patrol for days the lifeguards are on high alert.


Aircraft, autonomous cars, and control

why are we afraid to fly? Statistically, there is not safest means of transportation on the planet. Thousands and thousands of planes are in the skies every day, carrying millions of passengers arrive safe to your destination. And yet, we have a sensation a little unpleasant each time we boarded a plane, each time you feel a turbulence or a shock surprise. we Know that the risk of accident is very low, and we reaffirm, thinking that the pilot and the crew are the last to wish to problems.

Imagine that you have to hold a piece of wood that the other is going to cut with a hacksaw. How would you put the hand in the same place if you were cutting you?

With all many are unable to remove the fear of flying over. They prefer the car even for long distances. A means of transportation much more unsafe, inefficient and dangerous. Why? Because we are by controlling directly the car, and the risk that we perceive is much lower than the real. How I’m going to have an accident if I am always going to care? Die each year, more than 1,000 people in traffic accidents in Spain. The last air crash civil in Spain happened in 2008. Killed 154 people.

coche-autonomo-riesgo-1The aircraft passed rigorous checks and inspections, and many components are replaced when it has just passed 10% of its useful life. how does this litany with the autonomous car? Although it has been shown that statistically, it is a means of transport, much safer than a car controlled by a human, a part of the public believe that relinquishing control to a machine is actually risky. A natural skepticism, which is part of our human condition of our instinct of survival.

Education, transparency and lots of communication. Tesla needs to convince the skeptics that their cars are safe.

And if that public freak out, can spread it to those who had a neutral stance or sceptical. Can throw overboard all the advances in driving autonomous developed during the last decade. Note that Tesla have read the work of Sandman, controlling masterly situations of low danger, and high public scandal. As the fire of an electric car after a slight accident or the fatal accident with the autopilot. Education, objective data, and a lot of transparency.

tesla-funciones-autopilot-02In the U.S. a person dies by every 93 billion miles driven. The only fatal accident with Autopilot has occurred after 130 billions of miles driven. Globally, a person dies in traffic accidents every 60 trillion miles driven, as reflected in its corporate blog. Tesla is already collaborating with the NHTSA us to gather more information about the accident, and reminds us that Autopilot is still a technology in beta, which requires the driver to always take the hands on the steering wheel.

I Think that Tesla will know how to control the public reaction to this accident, and that the future of the autonomous car will follow your path. But it is true that the adoption of the Autopilot – other manufacturers already have technologies driving semi-autonomous, while not-so-advanced – has raised blisters on the industry, with other manufacturers checking of irresponsible to Tesla. Within a few years, a large portion of cars will be autonomous, but only we will give up complete control if we are confident that the technology is infallible.