Perspective can make virtually any number of deaths seem palatable. Using the benchmark of the early 1980s, we have made remarkable progress towards reducing highway traffic fatalities. From more than 50,000 people a year, in the last few years we have seen fatalities from motor vehicle accidents drop to an all time low, slightly above 30,000. Given we probably drive half a trillion more miles per year than 30 years ago, the accomplishment is all the more remarkable.
On the other hand, if 30,000 people died in airline accidents in a single year, commercial air travel would cease to exist and all the major carriers would go out of business. Nonetheless, we can do better than allowing a population equivalent the city of Kaneohe to die every year in car accidents.
Beyond the airbags, ABS brakes, seatbelts and the ever-increasing electronic supervision of the operation of the vehicle, the combination of all of those technologies may make the driver optional. NPR profiles a test drive by one of their reporters through an area outside Pittsburg with a Cadillac that has the ability to engage in autonomous driving.
The reporter was surprised that the drive took place on public roads, but the engineers indicted that real-world conditions are necessary, and those only exist on real streets and highways.
Automotive engineers are forecasting the technology will be ready by 2020, though it may take a few more years for the legal and insurance industry to catch up with the technology.
The vehicle operation is not as smooth as when driven by a human, but the technology is still in its infancy, and when fully realized, holds the promise to virtually eliminate vehicle collisions and with it, many fatalities. That may be worth a few bumpy rides.
Source: NPR, “Hitting The Road Without A Driver,” Brian Naylor, August 19, 2013