Robot Cars Are a Moral Imperative


So tweeted tech venture capitalist Marc Andreessen after the crash that injured and killed comedians traveling on a New Jersey highway with Saturday Night Live star Tracy Morgan earlier this week. More than 90 percent of all traffic accidents are the result of human error. The New York Times is reporting the recent findings by Virginia Tech researchers who are estimating how many fewer deaths and accidents would occur with enhanced driving technologies. From the Times:

But two studies by researchers at Virginia Tech — H. Clay Gabler, a professor of biomedical engineering, and Kristofer D. Kusano, a research associate — suggest how much safer robot cars might be. They found that even cars that are not fully autonomous but which automate some of the most dangerous aspects of driving could have as big an effect as seatbelts have had…

They found that lane-departure warning systems would have prevented 30.3 percent of the crashes caused by lane drifting, and 25.8 percent of the injuries. Rear-end and collision warning systems and automatic braking would have prevented only 3.2 percent to 7.7 percent of crashes, but would have reduced their severity. The number of people injured or killed would have declined in the range of 29 to 50 percent, the researchers concluded.

By comparison, seatbelts have reduced injuries and fatalities by about 50 percent, and are considered the most beneficial auto safety measure of all time, Mr. Gabler said.

In 2012, more than 33,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in the United States. In April, the free-market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute issued a report reviewing the effects that regulation might have on the introduction of self-driving vehicles and warned:

Policy makers must remember that their actions can produce harm. If automated vehicles are demonstrated to be significantly safer than manually driven vehicles, any misstep, convoluted law, or rule that leads to unnecessary higher costs or delays translates to increased injury and death.

The next generation will be shocked at the carnage that we tolerated during the primitive era in which people were actually allowed to drive themselves down highways.