Google is out with a new blog post talking about how their self-driving car technology is now mastering city conditions. I can’t personally verify their particular claims but it is a reminder that self-driving cars are coming. Whether this is thanks to Google, Nissan or some other company, self-driving car technology will eventually be perfected which would be one of the biggest public health advances of the 21st century.
Allowing almost any adult to steer two-ton hunks of metal at incredibly high speeds near people, buildings and other cars is an act of collective insanity, which as a society we have come to blindly accept out of economic necessity. Driving is one of the most dangerous things we not only allow but encourage people to do. More than 2.2 million Americans were taken to the emergency room and more than 32,000 people died because of motor vehicle collisions in 2009 alone.
That is more than the number of people who died from Parkinson’s, chronic liver disease, homicide, or unintentional drug overdoses. If driving a car were a disease, Sting would probably be playing benefit concerts for its eradication.
We have come to blindly accept the huge number of motor vehicle fatalities as a necessity of modern life, but it soon might not need to be. When self-driving technology is perfected and widely adopted that should theoretically eliminate the vast majority of these deaths and injuries. That would be a public health improvement on par with finding a cure for leukemia. We may soon need MAHD, Mothers Against Human Driving.
Advanced technology that removes the need for often distracted people to guide fast moving and highly dangerous two-ton machines should not just be looked at as transportation or tech policy. It could potentially be one of the biggest public health improvements of this century.