In his recent TED talk, Sebastian Thrun (director of the AI Lab at Stanford and project lead for Google’s driverless cars) discusses his goal of saving one million lives per year by preventing automobile crashes. I admire him for setting out to reach such a lofty goal. It sure makes me wish there was accurate data available about traffic fatalities worldwide. Lacking that information I took a look at the United States where an average of 40,988 traffic fatalities occurred per year during the first decade of this century. A number far too high in my opinion.
I am fascinated by the technology being employed by Thrun and his team in successfully implementing driverless cars, however, with only 140,000 miles driven on public streets the technology is a long way from being proven. Considering that the NHTSA estimates an average of 2.9 trillion miles driven per year between 2001 and 2008 in the United States. Why am I comparing the average miles of all drivers you ask? Because when there is an average of 238,000 registered vehicles in the United States all those miles really do matter (I won’t get into statistical significance, you can venture down that road on your own).
Thrun accurately states, “driving accidents are the number one cause of death for young people.” A sad statistic that could (and should) be addressed. Thrun further says, “and do you realize that almost all of those are due to human error and not machine error and can therefore be prevented by machines?” This is where my opinion differs from Thruns. Well, not so much differs, but I believe the number of traffic fatalities could be significantly reduced in a much shorter time than it will take to validate the viability of driverless cars and populate our public roadways with them.
Sadly, the number of traffic fatalities in the United States represents a much larger and wider reaching epidemic. That of self. In my opinion, the leading cause of traffic collisions (not just fatalities) is selfishness. During my daily commute I watch hordes of drivers swerve across multiple lanes of traffic to get to their exit. Never mind the signs that have been warning them of its impending arrival for the last several miles. Never mind the hundreds of other drivers on the road. The only thing that matters is them and their need to depart the flood of traffic at this exact exit. It is plain and simple selfishness.
What ever happened to drivers thinking about not just themselves but about all those other cars and drivers around them? What happened to teaching new drivers that if they cannot safely (and safely does not mean Evel Knievel would be proud) perform whatever driving action they desire then they should not do so. If you are not in the proper lane to exit the freeway you should proceed until the next safe exit, backtracking if necessary. I’m not talking about a lone section of interstate with exits ten miles apart. I am talking about metro freeways with exits every mile. While it might be an inconvenience to drive an extra couple of miles because you weren’t paying attention to your driving it is far better than having to live with the fact that you took another persons life out of your selfish carelessness. Even sadder than anything I’ve covered so far, I doubt that many people who have been the at-fault driver in a traffic fatality ever recognize that in essence they committed murder. That’s right, I said murder. Perhaps if we actually treated drivers who kill another human being out of their selfish carelessness like criminals there would be some change of other drivers’ behavior. Perhaps not. Hard to say in this time in history when man has never cared so much about himself and no one else than he does now.
What I know is that if our drivers’ education programs educated people on actual driving skill and not just start it, put it in gear and go, we would have much safer roads. There would be fewer fatalities and injuries and as a result lower insurance rates. Rarely am I for a federally controlled program but a federally mandated driving course that requires more hours behind the wheel where a portion of that time is spent in a controlled environment where defensive driving techniques can be learned and experienced would surely reduce crashes on our roadways. Think of all the media attention given to rollover crashes. Face it, the word rollover sounds sensational. In most cases, a rollover crash is the result of driver error. Driver error that occurs as a result of lack of skill, experience, and training. Driving is a privilege, not a right. It needs to be treated and respected that way. Every time you get behind the wheel of an automobile you are in control of the deadliest weapon in America. Take that responsibility seriously.
Because I am a driver (and that will not change) I leave you with a ride around Monza, enjoy.