As readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of self-driving cars. I keep saying that self-driving cars are going to be the biggest public health breakthrough of the early 21st century. Why? Because the number of people that get injured or killed by humans in cars is simply astounding, and self-driving cars will bring this number close to zero.
If you have a hard time believing this, consider these statistics from the Association for Safe International Road Travel:
In the US alone,
- each year 37,000+ people die in car crashes - over 1,600 are children, almost 8,000 are teenagers
- each year, about 2.3 million people are injured or disabled
Globally, the numbers are even more staggering:
- each year, almost 1,3 million people die in car crashes
- each year, somewhere between 20 and 50 million people are injured or disabled
- Car crashes are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29, and the second leading cause of death worldwide among young people ages 5-14.
If car accidents were an infectious disease, we would very clearly make driving illegal.
Self-driving cars will substantially reduce those numbers. It has recently been shown that the current version of Tesla's autopilot reduced crashes by a whopping 40% - and we're in early days when it comes to the sophistication of these systems.
All these data points lead me to the conclusion stated above, that self-driving cars are going to be the biggest public health breakthrough of the early 21st century.
I cannot wait to see the majority of cars being autonomous. I have two kids of age 4 and 7 - the only time I am seriously worried about their safety is when they are in a car, or when they play near a road, and the stats make this fear entirely rational. According to the CDC, the injuries due to transportation are the leading cause of death for children in the US, and I don't assume that this is much different in Europe.
In fact, the only time I am worried about my own safety is when I am in a car, or near a car. I am biking to and from the train station every day, and if you were to plot my health risk over the course of a day, you'd see two large peaks exactly when I'm on the bike.
If there is any doubt that I am super excited to see full autonomous vehicles on the street, I hope to have put them to rest. But what increasingly fascinates me about self-driving cars, beyond the obvious safety benefits, is what they will do to our lives, and how they will affect public transport, cities, companies, etc. I have some thoughts on this and will write another blog post later. My thinking on this has taken an unexpected turn after reading Rodney Brook's blog post entitled "Unexpected Consequences of Self Driving Cars", which I recommend highly.