Statistically speaking, self-driving cars are safer than non-autonomous vehicles partly thanks to the fact that human error no longer plays a role, but of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that they can't be safer than they are today. Consumers tend to expect perfection from an autonomous system and of course, manufacturers of self-driving systems such as Google are well aware of this. Self-driving vehicles need to be safe, regulated, and as aware as possible of their surroundings, weather conditions and so on. However, this is only part of the whole picture, and companies like Google with a say in fully-autonomous technology need to take into account a wide variety of scenarios. What happens if the system breaks down and an accident occurs? How can autonomous vehicles be made safer for pedestrians? These are important questions, and Google is already trying to answer them and prepare for such scenarios by developing new technologies.
Google recently patented a new technology for its self-driving vehicles, designed to increase the safety of pedestrians in the unfortunate case of an accident. The technology consists of an adhesive layer covering the front-end of a self-driving vehicle, coated in a second, non-sticky layer. How does it work? Well, in theory, immediately after a crash the non-sticky layer would be removed and the adhesive layer underneath would become exposed. On impact, the victim would be, for want of a better word, glued to the front of the car (see below), and the adhesive would prevent the victim from being thrown backwards and bounced off to suffer more injury. It really is an odd concept, to say the least, and it's not at all clear how the adhesive would be applied and successfully concealed to prevent unwanted sticky situations, literally.
Then again, there's no way to be sure that the patented technology at hand will make it into the final product. Google and most other companies develop numerous technologies that never see the light of day. It's part of the research & development process, and it's also a means for companies to protect their products and intellectual properties. As far as self-driving cars go, Google is constantly working on improving its autonomous system and has already applied for dozens of patents, including one that would technically allow a self-driving car to recognize school busses and drive with more caution in their proximity.