Can You React Faster than a Self-Driving Car on 5G Networks? | Hacker Noon

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@desmond-yuenDesmond Yuen

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Nearly all car crashes are due to human error

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, 37,461 lives were lost on U.S. roads in 2016. And 94 percent of vehicle crashes are due to “human error.” NHTSA estimates that vehicle safety developments helped raise the annual number of lives saved from 115 in 1960 to 27,621 in 2012. Cumulatively, these improved safety technologies saved over 600,000 lives between 1960 and 2012.

As we are moving toward full automation, there has been a lot of development in driver assistance. This is where a vehicle is controlled by the driver, but there are some driving assistance options like collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control are already helping to save lives and prevent injuries. 

With self-driving technology and 5G, we could reduce car crashes and fatalities further. To understand how self-driving technology can make cars safer, we need to understand how fast humans can react to road hazards first.

How Fast Humans Can React to Road Hazards

A new study by MIT researchers shows humans need about 390 to 600 ms to detect and react to road hazards, given only a single glance at the road. The results indicate that younger drivers are quicker at both tasks: Older drivers (55 to 69 years old) required 403 ms to detect hazards in videos, and 605 ms to choose how they would avoid the hazard. Younger drivers (20 to 25 years old) only needed 220 ms to detect and 388 ms to choose from.

When a child runs onto the road, it takes an average of 1.6 seconds for a human driver to hit the brakes. Self-driving cars equipped with radar or lidar sensors and a camera system have a reaction time of 0.5 seconds. A self-driving car can react much faster than humans.

Reaction time is also a critical factor when drivers are tired. Self-driving cars ensure drivers will have enough time to safely take the controls and steer clear of unexpected hazards. Let’s look at how self-driving cars can offer better safety protection.

The Science of Self Driving Cars

According to Wikipedia, a self-driving car, also known as an autonomous vehicle, driverless car, or robo-car is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and moving safely with little or no human input. They combine sensors and software to control, navigate, and drive the vehicle. Figure 1 below is an example of what self-driving cars look like.

Source: Toward Data Science

The camera, LiDAR, Radar, and sensors are like the eyes and ears of humans. And the computer and control electronics work like the brains hands, and feet of the humans. With the combination of hardware and software, many accidents can be avoided. Seeing is believing. The link to the video below shows how self-driving technology steps in to avoid a last-minute collision. 

This Video Shows a Tesla Model 3 Stopping Itself to Avoid an Accident

As I was watching the video, the question came to my mind was “can I react as quickly as the self-driving car?” This is how machines can help humans to improve response time and compensate for the limitation of human vision. 

Why 5G is Critical For Road Safety

What does 5G have to do with self-driving cars and safety? 5G’s increased throughput, reliability, availability, and lower latency will enable new safety-sensitive applications which are known as V2X or Vehicle-to-Everything. The low latency is important for real-time decision-making scenarios. Self-driving cars can generate terabytes of data daily. See Figure 2. Anything over a hundred milliseconds of latency is going to disrupt the operation of self-driving cars.

Figure 2. Amount of data generated by self-driving cars. Source: Intel Corporation

5G specifies one millisecond (ms) end-to-end transmission latency requirements which are perfect for minimizing the V2X communications reaction time. With the existing 4G LTE system, it has various limitations preventing 1ms end-to-end transmission such as the 1ms length of subframes. As a result, 4G LTE will exceed the 1ms end-to-end transmission requirement just to transmit the data. The bandwidth improvements with 5G will improve the data transfer rate. 5G’s high bandwidth data rate of up to 20 Gb/s enables applications like real-time mapping for automated driving, software updates, and streaming multimedia infotainment. 

Road Safety Improved When Cars Are Connected

Figure 3. Communication of Car Crash via V2X. Source: ZDNet.

When cars with V2X are connected via the 5G network, safety is further improved with services such as collision avoidance. See Figure 3. Vehicles involved in the accident can send messages to the cars behind them to warn the other drivers about the car crash ahead of them. It will take time for the 5G infrastructure to build up. When 5G is adopted widely it will offer much better safety protection for drivers and pedestrians.

One Common Safety Framework For Self-Driving Cars

For many years, federal car-safety regulation is based on the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). With significant safety improvements brought about by self-driving cars, the NHTSA is now looking at regulations relating to the development of vehicles equipped with Automated Driving Systems (ADS).

While the large-scale deployment of self-driving technology is probably years away, many companies are actively developing and testing ADS technology throughout the United States. The automakers need a common framework to develop safety features that can prevent accidents. The creation of a governmental safety framework specifically tailored to ADS will help to speed up the development and deployment of self-driving cars. This in turn will make roads safer for everyone.


  1. Automated Vehicles for Safety
  2. The study measures how fast humans react to road hazards
  3. NHTSA Frames Safety for Cars without Drivers 
  4. NHTSA is Defining Safety for Self-Driving Cars, But It Has Questions For You
  5. Edge Computing Is So Fun – Part 2: The Future Begins with The Road Side Unit


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