With significant advances in sensors, robotics, communication and artificial intelligence, we may finally have all the tools necessary to make the final push to fully Autonomous Cars. Most people view this as nothing more than an interesting feature or gimmick, but really it can dramatically affect the world. That is assuming we are willing to go all in. The benefits are far beyond the simple primary ability to allow drivers to let go of control, the secondary and tertiary benefits have the potential for enormous impact.
Every year, the US faces two immediate issues related to human drivers. First, the high accident rate, whether due to careless, reckless, or impaired driving. Every year, about 37,000 people lose their lives due to traffic accidents. Another 2.35 million are injured or disabled. Even if we discount the loss of human life, imagine the billions of dollars of disruption this causes? Closed roads during clean up. Lost wage earners in families, potentially putting those families at risk. Perhaps even putting them into the position of needing to rely on government services to get by. Consider the medical costs. Not only of the services directly to the injured, but also the extra strain it puts on hospitals, increasing costs for all other services.
The second issue the US faces, related to human drivers, is congestion. Human reflexes and lack of direct communication with the traffic patterns and cars ahead, make it impossible to condense and direct traffic patterns in the most efficient way. In addition to this, the tendency of many drivers to become impatient and angered, causes them to drive in a fashion that increases both congestion and the chance of accident. Autonomous cars would remove both obstacles. And these are by no means small obstacles. Every year, congestion alone costs the US economy about $124 billion.
As if these more direct impacts were not enough, now imagine the chained benefits. Removing the completely unnecessary strain on our hospitals caused by human directed driving, we could lower some of our health care costs and ensure higher quality service. With no need to enforce traffic laws, we could lower our policing costs and move resources to other areas. We could also completely remove the threat of impaired driving. No one would ever again lose their family because someone made the poor choice to get in their car after drinking. We could even see cars and consumable parts lasting longer, due to more efficient driving.As great as this potential is, to truly make it work, we would need some system to standardize how this would all work across all manufacturers. As these benefits will only work when we remove all human directed driving, we would also need to push to make that transition in a reasonable time. That would require national commitment. And, while temporary, it would help create additional employment across the country.
John Gallagher, Operations Manager