Self-Driving Cars Might Solve One of the World’s Deadliest Problems

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
April 28, 2017

Driving may be the most dangerous thing you do each day.

Over 30,000 people lost their lives due to human error behind the wheel each year. Non-fatal injuries from driving topped two million in the U.S. alone.[1] And the staggering number of driving-related deaths and injuries worldwide each year has landed road safety among World Health Organization’s top 10 public health concerns.[2]

At St. George’s University, we take road safety very seriously. In fact, our researchers have studied auto accidents in Grenada to determine where they happen most often and to why.[3]

One of the main culprits? Being distracted by a phone. According to WHO, drivers using a mobile phone — both hand-held and hands-free — are 400 percent more likely to cause or be involved in an accident.[4]

But while technology puts drivers at risk, it may also be the key to protecting them — through self-driving cars. Developers are racing to create cars that run automatically in order to eliminate the hazards of human error.

Companies like Tesla, Google, and Uber are already developing self-driving cars that have the potential to drastically improve road safety.

Google’s autonomous cars have driven over two million miles and recorded only 14 minor accidents — only one being caused by the self-driving car.[5]

Uber also launched a small fleet of autonomous cars in Pittsburgh that was available to a select group of riders. In rolling out their new technology, Uber plans to log hundreds of road hours and tests to perfect their product for the masses.[6]

The technology has garnered the strong endorsement of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As that agency has pointed out, of the 30,000 lives lost each year in auto accidents, 94 percent are due to human choice or error. And self-driving cars could end up saving a great many of those lives in the near future.[7]

The scientific community largely agrees. Researchers estimate that self-driving cars could reduce fatalities by approximately 90 percent within the next four decades.[8]

And according to James Anderson, a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation, “the social benefits of autonomous vehicles — including decreased crashes…will outweigh the likely disadvantage.” [9]

The verdict is in. Self-driving cars could potentially save tens of thousands of lives each year. It’s time to give this groundbreaking technology a greenlight.

[1] https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=29836

[2] http://stats.oecd.org/

[3] http://etalk.sgu.edu/windref/documents/annual-reports/AnnualReport2013.pdf

[4]http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/road_traffic/distracted_driving_en.pdf

[5] https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//selfdrivingcar/files/reports/report-1115.pdf

[6] https://techcrunch.com/2016/09/14/1386711/

[7] http://www.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa/av/index.html

[8] http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/09/self-driving-cars-could-save-300000-lives-per-decade-in-america/407956/

[9] http://www.rand.org/news/press/2014/01/06.html

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