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Podcast: How Safe Is Safe Enough?

AVs can’t be more dangerous than human drivers. But is 'safer than human' safe enough?
Phil Koopman

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By Junko Yoshida

We invited to our latest postcast Phil Koopman, a safety expert and associate porfessor of Carnegie Mellon University, to discuss his latest book, How Safe Is Safe Enough?, just dropped over the Labor Day weekend.

Koopman aims his book for those on the front line developing, testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technology.

Equally important, the book is for stakeholders — federal and state regulators, legislators, investors, tech suppliers and the driving public. All will be affected by the safety issues raised by AVs driven on public roads. Regulators, motorists, passengers and pedestrians must deal with AVs.

Koopman also addresses “tech enthusiasts,” actively engaged in social media. “Ask 10 people what safe means, You’re going to get 12 different answers,” said Koopman. Given that there is no single definition of safe, people are “talking past each other” when discussing safety of AVs.

Koopman proposes a sound framework for defining traffic safety, asking readers fundamental questions in a methodical, thorough way that probes for the “unknown unknowns” that could lead to fatalities.

“AVs can’t be more dangerous than human drivers,” Koopman says. “But is ‘safer than human’ safe enough?” Good question. Second, even if we agree that AVs should be “at least as safe as a human,” we still must identify to “which human” we are comparing AVs.

Lastly, if an AV is deemed safe, we must ask: What metric should be used to gauge safety? How can we predict it?

How Safe is Safe Enough? also offers technical detail needed by the engineers and designers. But as Koopman acknolwedges, “The book is more of a discussion and not an academic review paper.” It comes alive with Koopman’s original voice — clear, smart and approachable.

Listen to our chat with Koopman here.

Podcast with Phil Koopman: How Safe Is Safe Enough
Book Review: Phil Koopman’s New Book Asks the Hardest AV Question: ‘How Safe is Safe Enough?’

Junko Yoshida is the editor in chief of The Ojo-Yoshida Report. She can be reached at

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