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The Cost of Traffic Accidents
The Promise of Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars look better than ever after an uptick in traffic related fatalities in the first half of 2016. The WSJ reports:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday that traffic deaths rose 10.4% in the first half of 2016, a steep increase following a surprising uptick in fatalities last year. The increase recorded between January and June far outpaces the 3.3% increase in miles traveled on American roads over the same period, according the Federal Highway Administration. […]

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the agency now aims eliminate traffic fatalities by 2046. The agency said work taking place on automated vehicles could help make that goal a reality…

Several auto makers, along with Silicon Valley tech companies and parts suppliers, are racing to accelerate the introduction of autonomous features in vehicles—such as automated braking or lane-keeping assist—and develop vehicles capable of driving without a human in control. Many companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., Google Inc. and General Motors Co., have initiated or announced plans for self-driving car testing on public roads.

Secretary Foxx has reason to be optimistic about automated car technology: the advent of the self-driving car stands to usher in the most consequential tech revolution of our time. Traffic accidents are a perennial trillion dollar drain on the American economy, causing environmental harm, property damage, and skyrocketing car and health insurance premiums. Analysts say the self-driving car revolution can cut these numbers by 90% or more.

The WSJ report goes on to state that the main cause of traffic-related fatalities is drunk driving, a circumstance that should move us to imagine the best of what a driver-less car world will look like: one in which the inebriated sleep soundly in the backseats of their cars instead of fighting for their lives in the back of ambulances.

As with all disruptions, self-driving cars will bring real downsides (lost trucking jobs, for example). It’s important that policymakers think harder than they have in the past about how to support unemployed truckers and taxi drivers. This is much easier said than done. But it’s also important not to let these concerns get in the way of a less dangerous self-driving future.

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  • Nigel Sedgwick

    I posted this on some other USA website, back on Wed 27 Jan 2016. It’s still good.

    From Wikipedia (2013 figures; see ) the USA has twice the road fatalities per unit distance driven than does the UK. This is 7.1 deaths per billion vehicle-km for the USA and 3.6 deaths per billion vehicle-km driven for the UK.

    From this, it seems to me that there are other (and likely sooner available) useful remedies to the high USA road death rate than use of autonomous vehicles.

    Best regards

    • Andrew Allison

      Well yes, if half the money invested in fuel economy had, instead, been invested in in-car breathalyzers, the result might be almost the same as that anticipated from self-driving vehicles. Something I’ve yet to see addressed, however, is how to prevent a drunk from taking control of his/her self-driving vehicle.

  • truthsojourner

    What is it with TAI? It keeps pushing this nonsense.

    • seattleoutcast

      I wouldn’t call it nonsense. While I agree with you that peddling the future is dangerous (Jet packs anyone? Fusion power plants are just ten years away!), this is near-term and real. Working models are operational. Already there are driverless trucks in Nevada and in Australian mines. Technology has a way of being non-linear.

      • f1b0nacc1

        There is a gigantic difference between driverless vehicles in well-controlled environments (mines, for instance) and the rather chaotic world of local streets. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see driverless trucks very soon (10-15 years or so), but only on the interstates (or other large highways) for quite some time. It isn’t just technology, the problems of regulation and liability are going to be a roadblock (forgive the pun) for some time to come.

        • Andrew Allison

          At last, something upon which to disagree with you [grin]. I think we’ll see driverless trucks within five years. The long-haul distribution network (aggregation to distribution point) is ripe for it, and the potential benefits (truck utilization and employee costs) irresistible. As to liability, I read somewhere that in the US a (driven) truck is involved in an accident every seven seconds.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t think we disagree all that much. (grin) You are a bit more optimistic about how fast the regulatory hurdles (state and local, remember that long-haul trucking will require federal approval, and that isn’t EVER quick) will be overcome, and I suspect that the technical issues will require a bit more time to shake out. Keep in mind that Freightliner is only just now building prototypes, and they don’t expect to see anything in the way of production models on the road before 2025. Certainly there will be other vendors, but that will require approval by the DOT (more delays), and will inevitably require time to get things working properly. Finally, there will be insurance and liability issues. You are absolutely correct that ‘crewed’ trucks are likely to be far less safe than uncrewed ones, but you will have trouble convincing the population t large about that, especially as the Teamsters and their kept politicans/lawyers/useful idiots will be scared by the robot boogeyman. Look at how much aggravation Tesla is going through right now.

            With all of that said, I suspect that we are in disagreement (if we are at all) on only the most ephermal of issues…time. You say 5 years, I say 10, maybe a bit more. That isn’t a lot of difference…

    • f1b0nacc1

      At least they have given up on boring us with telecommuting….

  • RPK

    Why is it assumed that the government’s job is to transition truck and taxi drivers into another market? Why should the government have any role in that regard? The market takes care of that via a myriad of individual actions and newly created needs. Also, you left out bus drivers, Fedex and UPS drivers, hotshotters, etc, etc.

    Perhaps the famous “Buggy Whip Work Placement Initiative” from the turn of the 20th century should be recreated…. Jimmy Hoffa can lead the charge!

    • John W Berresford

      You’re right. If vehicle drivers go the way of the blacksmith, it will take decades. Plenty of time for drivers to react and get new lives. They’re not helpless nincompoops.

    • LarryD

      But government is in the way of adaptation, with all the licensing and regulations. Research (by Harvard economists, no less) concluded that occupational licensing doesn’t contribute to public safety, which calls into question the entire concept.

  • FriendlyGoat

    As far as I can tell, TAI never met ANY concern about a blue job that should get in the way of eliminating it.

    • CaliforniaStark

      The threat of thief and hijacking will probably result in commercial trucks having at least one person aboard to “ride shotgun.”

      • FriendlyGoat

        So “Acme Private Security Inc.” will supply guards and diesel tank fillers, right?

      • Andrew Allison

        It seems to me unlikely that your average would-be driverless truck hijacker has acess to the tools necessary to do so. The hard-wired ability to remotely disable a vehicle which leaves it’s programmed path shouldn’t be too hard to implement. I also suspect that the drivers of hijacked vehicles have negligible impact on the outcomes. Long-distance truck drivers are an endangered species.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Actually your concern about the difficulties in making driverless vehicles workable are well taken (see my comment above to seattleoutcast), and I do share some of your concerns about the jobs that will be eliminated. With that said, however, what alternative do you offer, and just how do you intend (other than outright prohibition, regulatory or otherwise) do handle the problem? The truth of the matter is that while there are issues in getting this technology ready for prime time, it will be ready sooner or later (likely sooner), at which point we are going to have to adjust…I ask in all seriousness…how do you propose to do this?

      • FriendlyGoat

        Something we touched on earlier concerning this topic is the reaction—-over time—–of insurers. There is the possibility of some driverless cars and trucks being safer than some drivers. There is the possibility of driverless cars and trucks going unsafe for lack of maintenance. There is the possibility, especially with trucks, of needing a driver on board for security from theft, for negotiating tight quarters, for refueling and constant inspection, for loading/unloading, for handling paperwork at pickup and drop-off, and maybe for taking control in event of system irregularities. So, I’m not sure drivers go away at all—–maybe the principal duties just change. And then, again, businesses can have what they can reasonably insure.

        There is also politics. NAFTA would have had far more Mexican trucks running all over the USA than has been permitted in practice and much sooner. Governments, unions, safety people, insurers, maybe even voters—–they’ll all weigh in. These are reasons I think this is over-hyped for now.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Thank you for the direct reply.
          I am not sure that I agree with you (bet that is a surprise!…grin), since driverless vehicles (particularly on the highways, where they will first be introduced) are likely to be safer than those with drivers, even with today’s rather primitive technological base. Maintenance is a depot thing (this includes fueling and inspection) and is already increasingly being displaced by automation, not a driver-related task, and security is likely to be automated as well. If anything, an automated vehicle is likely to require less maintenance than one with a driver, due to more consistent driving patterns and the advantages of on-board telemetry, much of which is ordinarily ignored by human drivers.
          By ‘negotiating tight quarters’, I presume that you mean driving on local streets (rather than highways), in which case I agree. With that said, however, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the first stages of automated vehicles will be long-haul trucks being replaced by robots restricted to highways only, with large transshipment points along the interstates. This is already done to some extent by many long-haul truck lines, and while it wouldn’t completely replace human drivers at first, it would certainly remove them from the highways. As technology matures to the point where such vehicles could be trusted on local roads, the next stage of replacing people in trucks would be easy enough to implement. None of this is going to be easy, but the technical problems aren’t insurmountable. The military is already getting into this quite aggressively, (the benefits are obvious), and I wouldn’t be surprised if they pave the way for the process to be adopted by the civilian world.
          Your point re: NAFTA and Mexican trucks is an excellent one, but let me point out that those trucks are now on American highways, as the courts have overruled the various objections. If this is handled in a multistage process similar to what I outlined above (and if the technology is actually ready for the work, and not rushed into service before…always a real threat), I rather doubt that many of the existing members of the coalition against Mexican trucks (which were objected to for lots of reasons that had little to do with killing jobs) won’t sign on. The safety folks and the insurers (not to mention the big trucking firms that would stand to profit handsomely from all of this) would likely decline to sign on to any battle, and the unions (particularly the Teamsters) are not in a very good place to stage a fight on the scale necessary to prevent this.
          With all of that said, one never knows what the future will bring. I will offer the following prediction however…within 5 years you will see ‘pilot tests’ of the concepts I described above (we are already seeing engineering test vehicles on the roads of Nevada), and within 10 years the first commercial vehicles will be on the road. If I were a long-haul trucker under the age of 40, I would be working on Plan B right now….

          • FriendlyGoat

            Almost everyone under 40 in a job even remotely similar (in duties, training, and commonness) to trucking will need a Plan B in ten years, if not right now. This is a “not insignificant” problem and one of the reasons I will likely remain on the left side of thought. Automation and AI will increasingly be removing the rug from under larger and larger chunks of the population. This is not a proper topic of even conversation, let alone mitigation, in the right’s sphere of thought. Cars and trucks aside, whole classes of people will likely remain as relevant as they decide to be—-via their politics.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Actually I am on the right, and I am (attempting) to discuss it with you. Why the hostility? The truth of the matter is that these things (AI and automation, though they are VERY different things…) are coming, and there is very little that can be done to stop them At some point (and I repeat, that point is coming very, very soon) these technologies will be sufficiently mature to be deployed, and the notion that they will not be is simply silly.
            With this in mind, how would you suggest handling this? A great many people (likely those on the low end of the skills spectrum at first, but higher up as time goes on) are going to lose their jobs, and in fact lose even the prospects of any meaningful participation in the workforce. This is regrettable (at the very least), and certainly is important to discuss. So….I repeat…what is your suggestion to cope with it?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Well, I wasn’t trying to be “hostile”. You often wonder why I lean left and this subject is less one of the current hot buttons, so it seemed like a good place to mention why. I agree with you that change is coming and a wave of job loss or job downgrade is coming with it.

            The first way I would deal with it is to NOT further reduce the income or estate tax levels for owners of private companies, managements of companies, owners of shares in the public companies and traders of financial instruments. That is the principal and first difference between current “right” philosophy and current “left” philosophy and is probably the biggest real subject of the current election. We do not “make America great again” by policy which accelerates the ownership group’s ability to just keep all the benefits of efficiency gains which are manifesting as real losses in the working group. But that is what has been going on since the turn of this century. DO NOT keep doing it only bigger.

            Secondly, we obviously cannot keep people working in buggy whip factories, so I support the full range of education and training which 1) elevates and updates skills and 2) does NOT bury the trainees in debt. If the collapsing ITT Tech offered worthwhile programs of any kind, for instance, those should be duplicated in the public sector (say Community College) and furnished at very low cost.

            If Obamacare is ill-fated or wrong-headed because its private insurance model does not really work, replace it with Medicare for all. We cannot throw people out of jobs and medical care at the same time and be “great again”. Doing this, BTW, would be the greatest thing that ever happened to small business and really small business. Covered owners and covered employees with greatly-reduced burden to the small and really-small businesses has been just a dream for those owners for decades.
            This also happens to be the key to cost control.

            If the private sector lays off, the public sector needs to hire or supply the orders for the private sector to hire. If we need to hire seniors, for instance, to tutor children one on one, do it. A nation of people who cannot read is an expensive thing to maintain. If free enterprise cannot address public infrastructure deterioration, fix it.
            If three cops are better than one cop and one prison guard, hire cops until Andy Taylor is standing on every corner and community policing is a reality. We could go on, but you get the idea.

            The over-riding philosophy from the right is to funnel money from efficiency gains to the top only and the hell with everybody else. Don’t bother arguing. We aren’t going to agree and I’m not swayable to the Trump/Norquist bullsh*t even if you blow up your keyboard.
            But you DID ask.

          • f1b0nacc1

            You answered my question (and I appreciate that), but sadly added nothing new. If your proposed solution for this particular concern (automation vs workers) is to implement the wish-list of paleoliberalism, then I would suggest that you aren’t terribly interested in finding a solution, but rather are more interested in another talking point. Like the Left and most issues, every issue always seems to have the same set of solutions…convenient, isn’t it?

            With that said, I will respect your request, and not respond to your suggestions in detail.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The reason I make those kinds of suggestions is because there isn’t really some other policy path to making large (and larger) numbers of those left behind suddenly relevant again. The golf courses just don’t need enough private-sector caddies to make the gilded age pencil out on the other end.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The sad truth is that most of those who are about to be displaced aren’t going to be made relevant again easily, if at all, and certainly not through the sort of social engineering that you are proposing. I will respect your wishes and not point out the flaws in several of your policies, but even if I found them desirable on a more general level, they wouldn’t address the more fundamental problem with what is happening on a long term basis: unskilled and semi-skilled labor is becoming obsolete, and that tide of dislocation is creeping upwards on the skills ladder.

            Oh by the way, it will be fairly easy to replace caddies with AI-drive robots, far far sooner than you think. I loathe golf myself, but I have actually seen robotic caddies, and find them fascinating.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Glad we agree on golf. Mark Twain supposedly called it “a good walk ruined”. I feel that way myself. Great to be out walking in a pleasant meadow. Not so great to drive one’s self crazy with where a white ball goes after it is hit—–when there is really no reason to hit it anywhere. A cocker spaniel could probably be trained to drop it in the cup for us—–if it needs to be in a cup. Then we could go walking with the dog.

            The meat of your first-paragraph point, though, expresses something I am suggesting we oppose. I believe the unskilled and semi-skilled will be as relevant as PEOPLE as they decide as a group to be. If they are out supporting Donald Trump in conservatism because he leads them to believe he will make them great when other conservatives, such as you, say “Nah, not really. Nothing can be done for the poor schmucks”, I think they should be listening to you, not him.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Of course the unskilled and semi-skilled are people, moreover they are people as individuals, not as a group, which is the crux of the whole thing. With that said, however, they cannot alter their circumstances by listening to those who claim that they can simply demand better, they can only earn it. This will likely come from better or more skills, but it will not come from simply attempting to hijack the wealth of others using the power of the state. Trump, whatever his flaws, ultimately has the right message (he will provide them with an opportunity to EARN a better life), despite the fact that it is unlikely that his methods to make this possible are deeply flawed. HRC, on the other hand, simply promises ‘more stuff’ to be given away freely, as if there are no limits to the resources that can be commandeered for this purpose.
            Math wins these arguments, however much you may dislike it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            There is no evidence whatsoever that Trump or his party’s policies can, will, or are even intended to “provide” the members of the present lower-middle class with “an opportunity to EARN a better life”. You, yourself, are a proponent of the idea that the demand for workers from this group is becoming increasingly obsolete. There is nothing at all offered from Republicanism to even mitigate that a little bit, much less fix it. Please don’t ask me to believe that Donald’s (or even Ryan’s and McConnell’s) campaign rhetoric and “math” are the same thing. It’s worse than a stretch.

          • f1b0nacc1

            You need to work on your reading comprehension….did you miss the part where I said that “his methods to make this possible are deeply flawed”? As for Ryan and McConnell, you need to ready what they have proposed (have you? or did you simply ignore them in righteous ignorance?) before you tell me that they have offered nothing…

          • FriendlyGoat

            I suspected what you meant about Trump—–but did you know that your sentence above actually says that it’s “unlikely” that his methods are deeply flawed? I think it’s a typo and I ignored it—–suspecting that you were (again) apologizing for the Trump/GOP line while recommending it (and never really wanting to nitpick typos anyway.)

            As for Ryan and McConnell, good grief. Do you think we on the left don’t know what a GOP agenda is?

          • f1b0nacc1

            When you don’t read the whole sentence, then suggest that I haven’t in fact acknowledged what I specifically did, then yes…that is a problem with reading comprehension. You may not like what I have to say, but at least quote me properly…
            Regarding the GOP agenda, I rather doubt most on the Left do know what it is…they tend to ignore what is being said in favor of talking points. You yourself have done this repeatedly, arguing that the GOP had no healthcare proposals, when in fact they have many that both myself and others pointed out to you on several occasions. Either you don’t listen, or prefer not to have your comfortable ignorance disturbed.
            Trump is likely wrong that his methods will work, we agree there, but he is no more ‘lying’ than is HRC, who has at least as much reason to believe that her methods won’t work. This is the problem with the Left, they cannot even imagine that principled disagreements exist. You do apparently provide at least one useful function though…you demonstrate precisely that failing…

          • FriendlyGoat

            Oh, testy, testy.

            “We will deport all the illegal immigrants”, with no detail on the methods for doing that and objections to any questions about “how ya gonna do that?”, followed by “trust me” followed by “well, some of the immigrants”.

            “There should be some punishment of women who obtain abortions”, followed by, “nah, not really.”

            “We’ll have a ban on Muslims entering this country”, followed by we will intensely vet those from some countries.

            Heck, f1b, the Trumpian stuff is a an entire collection of lies and gobbledegook. Even most officials in your own party know that and know that “enough” of it might cook all of their own gooses.

          • f1b0nacc1

            You are quoting Trump….not the GOP, and certainly not the right. The ‘deport immigrants’ stuff, for instance is hardly a universally held view among the GOP or the right. Likewise on abortion, Trumps quotes are hardly universally held, and in fact I search in vain for any serious discussion of this other than a few minor off-the-cuff remarks. Are you going to suggest that we do that with every candidate including HRC and Bernie?

            Banning Muslims not what has been suggested…banning individuals from these countries (Syria, etc.) is a very different thing, and is in fact a position held by many on the GOP side, including me. I offer no apologies because I think none are necessary. If you don’t care for those, I suggest you offer alternatives to what is being done now which is to import individuals from these countries with no realistic level of vetting.

            Your comments on healthcare represent your usual talking points, but clearly you haven’t read very much or even understood what little you have read. The GOP has presented a pile of healthcare proposals (Ryan’s most recent selection is only one), and they are far from the ‘race to the bottom’ that you parody. By the way, I am fine with allowing competition between states…if your argument that this would inevitably devolve into a race to the bottom, you would have to explain why this rarely (if ever) happens in the real world. Why for instance do we not see a huge move in manufacturing to Zimbawe (which has the worst labor standards), or a massive corporate relocation to Mississippi? The fact of the matter is that a generous regulatory environment is only one factor, albeit an important one. You show your ignorance by pretending otherwise…

            If you have heard of no overall Republican plan (or conservative plan or libertarian plan) it is because you simply don’t want to look…you hare hiding behind your wall of ignorance because you are afraid to confront the likelihood that you are wrong. Obamacare failed, own it

          • FriendlyGoat

            1) All of Trump’s policy comments on any tape are a matter of record and are now the leadership of your world view. I’ll gladly go with an equivalent compendium of all the statements of Mrs. Clinton taken together.

            2) I’ll just stick with my opinion that Republicans have nothing to offer on health care reform that is not CENTERED around reducing policy standards by attempting to force onto the entire nation whatever can be cooked up only in the least-regulated GOP state. We’ll all see when they get past the immediate election hype (wherein, BTW, nothing at all is actually being described in any detail from Republicans for health care.)

          • Andrew Allison

            Why the hostility? Surely you jest? It’s his default response to arguments he cannot refute.

          • f1b0nacc1

            In fairness, he answered the question this time (lousy answer, but you can only expect so much), and pretty much stuck to the topic. I often wonder why there is so much anger there, and am reminded of the old quote, “Conservatives think Liberals are stupid…Liberals think Conservatives are evil”….

  • Josephbleau

    Driverless cars will be great …2020 USA ” Hi Joe, I am not taking you to work today, I have been instructed to take you to the ‘Hillary! loves you camp’ because you were not sufficiently positive in your required diary comments last night.” Snap of door locks sound.

    • Jim__L

      It’s only a matter of time before someone tries this. Those on the Left should replace the words “Hillary” with “Trump”.

      Honestly, anyone who has been in favor of the erosion of limits on executive power over the last eight years, *deserves* Trump as their president…

  • John W Berresford

    As a motorcycle rider going back to 1971, I wonder if all this laudable focus on reducing accidents will eventually lead to outlawing motorcycles.

    • rheddles

      Don’t outlaw motorcycles, but make sure they have the same sensor and control systems if they want to use public roads. Off road who cares, but don’t look to public funds to cover your rescue and hospitalization costs.

      • Jim__L

        Should we say that the public should not fund hospitalization or medication costs for STDs (including AIDS) for people who are IV drug abusers or sexually promiscuous?

        • rheddles

          Works for me.

    • Fat_Man

      No we can’t outlaw motorcycles. We need the fresh organs from otherwise healthy young men that motorcycle crash victims supply for transplants.

    • Andrew Allison

      Are motorcycles that much more dangerous per vehicle mile than cars? That asked, I do find it slightly aggravating that motorcyclists want to have their (drive between stopped vehicles) cake and eat it (take up an entire lane when traffic is moving) too — but not as much as the cyclists who think that stop signs/lights are only for vehicular traffic [grin]

  • ljgude

    That is a lot of jobs o somehow create in a job market already shrinking because of other forms of automation. Without looking at the social consequences and dealing with it this kind of technological dislocation elites may find themselves on the end of a pitchfork if they tell one too many unemployed truck driver to get a job as a masseuse. (Gender is just a construct, right?)

    • Jim__L

      Masseuse jobs are especially problematic in San Jose, where “day spas” are frequently just a front for prostitution.

      • Andrew Allison

        About those Christian morals in practice? [grin]

        • Jim__L

          Not sure that either the patrons or the employees are much for morals.

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