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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