Home Connected Car Self-Driving The best parts about autonomous vehicles are already here

The best parts about autonomous vehicles are already here

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In part, the National Research Council overlooked this new emerging crash science because it was stuck in an older way of thinking about safety research – seeking to avoid crashes, not make them less severe. One leader in crash safety, U.S. Air Force Colonel John Stapp, grew so frustrated with the collective inaction that he founded the Stapp Car Crash Conference in 1955.

Eventually, Stapp would be seen as an early hero of auto safety. Zworykin would continue to show off versions of his system to journalists and others at least through the late 1950s, but little came from his efforts.

Don’t miss the small stuff

At the dawn of the second great autonomous-car awakening, that forgotten history creates similar risks today. The allure of fully driverless cars crowds out the collective memory of the dramatic improvement in car safety achieved by less shiny measures.

Because of seat belt laws, vehicle safety technologies and drunk driving reductions, the rate of fatal road crashes has steadily declined. In 1975, there were about 33 fatalities for every billion miles traveled on U.S. roads. By 1988, the rate had dropped to 23. It dropped below 13 in 2008, and shrunk to 11 deaths per billion miles traveled in 2011. But the rate of roadway deaths has increased recently – in 2012, 2015 and 2016.

With an estimated 40,000 road deaths in 2016, the fatality rate spiked back to closer to 13 per billion miles traveled, erasing the progress made in the last decade. The dopamine rush of social media engagement and other new ways that our pocket computers distract us is suspected of playing a role in the increase in road deaths. If smartphones are found to be fueling the increase in crashes, then the same advances in information technology and computing that enable a future with autonomous vehicles could be literally killing people on the roadways in the present.

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