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June 15, 2019, 11:54 a.m. EDT

Self-driving cars have a problem: They’re making human-driven ones safer

The technology behind robo-taxis is making human-driven cars safer at a rate that completely autonomous vehicles may have trouble matching

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By Christopher Mims


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Companies like Tesla are developing technology to create fully autonomous cars — but they’re making human-driven vehicles safer in the process.

If you buy one of many new makes and models of car today, you might be surprised to find that, as a standard feature, it can do something your previous car couldn’t: It will take over when it thinks you’re making a mistake.

In the coming years, many cars will do more than that, even driving mostly by themselves, at least on highways. And not just luxury models such as the latest Audi A8 /zigman2/quotes/207972355/delayed DE:NSU +0.63%  or Cadillac CT6 /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -1.93%  , but something as mainstream as a Nissan Rogue /zigman2/quotes/207656007/delayed NSANY +0.42%  .

Some of this technology has been in development for years, but the newest versions of it—with advanced object recognition, radar-and-laser detection and lightning-fast artificial intelligence—were created for autonomous cars. Many tech entrepreneurs have argued that fleets of robo-taxis would convince us to abandon personal car ownership in favor of “transportation as a service.” Some of them have predicted these robot cars will start populating U.S. roads within the next two years.

But the paradox of how this evolution is playing out is that technology developed to give us driverless vehicles from the likes of Tesla Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA -5.00%  and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +1.97%   /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL +1.69%  could actually delay their adoption.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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