Terrorists? Immigrants? You can bet that Trump and Clinton don’t talk about this tonight in their first debate, but one of the worst problems we have in our country are the millions of car and truck collisions each year.
Did you know that a whopping 37,000 people are killed and 2.35 million are injured here each year on our roads but by comparison, 32 Americans were killed by terrorists in the five years from 2010 to 2014?
Could technology make our highways safer? Of course. But when the U.S. Department of Transportation made an announcement last week that it will allow our car manufacturers to design self-driving vehicles, but that our government will somehow regulate their safety, you have to wonder if we can trust GM and Toyota to protect us.
Safety factors to consider
We don’t need more safety debacles like we’ve had with the automakers’ exploding airbags, cars that accelerate by themselves, and defective ignition switches that make engines lock up that have have killed and injured thousands of Americans.
The death of a Tesla self-driving auto enthusiast in May raised red flags about the dangers of self-driving cars. Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old technology enthusiast, died when his high end car crashed into a tractor-trailer that was making a left turn in front of it.
Although human error causes 94% of fatal crashes, the idea of sitting in a car going 65 MPH while a computer balances radars, lasers, sensors, and GPS to control our motion is frightening, right?
So there are many questions that must be answered before autonomous vehicles should be manufactured:
- What happens if their computer software suddenly malfunctions or is hacked into?
- Will the vehicle “see” a smaller obstacle like a pedestrian or deer crossing in front?
- How will it respond to sudden changes in the weather or driving conditions that cause a loss in traction?
- Can the driver start driving after the auto pilot has been chosen?
- If the driver is intoxicated, tired, or distracted, will the vehicle allow him to drive?
- Will the vehicle recognize changes in local or state laws like speed limits?
Where do we go from here?
Self-driving technology is already standard in new vehicles. Sensors in cars and trucks regulate distance from other cars and objects, have drifting warnings, blind-spot detectors, and other collision-avoidance mechanisms.
Taking these safety features one step further, self-driving cars can keep a safe distance from the car in front, wait to turn until the path is clear, and apply the brakes when approaching a traffic jam. Automatic braking systems can already stop tractor-trailers from crashing into your car.
As I have said here before, self-driving features might be good for safety as long as unleashing automation does not become an unsupervised corporate boondoggle.
No doubt that self-driving vehicles will be sold here before you know it. Back in 1962 when I was a kid, one of my favorite shows was The Jetsons about a family living in the future. But even then, George had to drive the space ship.
Self-driving vehicles are the most exciting roadway safety advances in our lifetimes, but we must demand strict controls to guarantee our safety.