Musings on current events, books and random themes
Friday, February 21, 2014
Reducing deaths and improving transportation - and who is getting in the way.
Two articles from very different sources, with different political perspectives, which nevertheless agree on the importance and value of accelerating the development of self-driving cars.
"The more than 1.3 million people killed and 50 million injured in traffic accidents world-wide each year can be expected to double in the next two decades as the number of vehicles doubles.
The introduction of self-driving cars would reduce the number of traffic accidents and fatalities immediately, not just when everyone has one, because they are programmed to avoid accidents with human drivers who may be drunk, sleepy, angry, inattentive, unskilled or texting, which collectively cause more than 95% of accidents world-wide. A Nhtsa study released last year using data culled from black boxes in random car crashes revealed that only 1% of drivers fully applied the brakes and one-third didn't brake at all. Robo-car will brake fully, every time."
Unfortunately, "...the best we can get out of Washington is an announcement this month by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that the DOT intends to "begin working" on a regulatory proposal to someday require vehicle-to-vehicle communications for crash avoidance. Worse, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Nhtsa), the DOT's regulatory agency, is putting the brakes on the driverless revolution. In 2012, Kevin Vincent, the agency's chief counsel, went so far as to call it "a scary concept" for the public."
"If and when that day (of self-driving cars) arrives, many existing transportation inefficiencies will have been addressed without any government action at all.
To be fair, the government is taking steps to make your next drive better. Federal officials recently endorsed connected vehicle technology that should improve highway safety (though the system won't operate at peak efficiency until state and local leaders also invest in intelligent infrastructure). And it's certainly not to say the private sector always gets transportation right. Private road investments, for instance, can go terribly awry.
Winston and Mannering urge the government not to interfere with driverless technology — except, perhaps, to resolve some critical social questions about liability. But it won't be enough for public officials to sit idly by. The emergence of a driverless fleet will only draw more attention to the poor condition of America's roads and its broken transportation funding system. Try as they might, that's one problem public officials can't avoid for too much longer."