I went lickety-splickly, out to my old ‘55, pulled away slowly, feeling so holy


There’s one prediction about driverless cars that I can make with confidence: If millions of them ever roam the public highways, they will be far safer than cars driven by people. My confidence in this assertion does not derive from mere faith in technology. It’s just that if robotic drivers were as dangerous as human ones, then computer-controlled cars would never be allowed on the roads. We hold our machines to a higher standard than ourselves.

Over the past decade, the number of auto accidents in the United States—counting only those serious enough to be reported to the police—has been running at about six million a year. Those accidents kill about 40,000 people and injure well over two million more. Estimates of the economic impact are in the neighborhood of $200 billion. Much of that cost is shared among car owners through premiums for auto insurance.

This safety record certainly leaves ample room for improvement. An appropriate goal for automated vehicles might be to reduce highway carnage to the same order of magnitude experienced in other modes of transport, such as railroads and commercial aviation. That would mean bringing road fatalities down to roughly 1 percent of their current level—from 40,000 deaths per year to 400. (In terms of deaths per passenger mile, cars would then be the safest of all vehicles.)

{ Scientific American | Continue reading }