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Can the Self-driving Car Solve Our Transportation Problems?

Lifestyle & Opinion

By Dana Manning

According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, nearly 1.3 million of the world’s people die in road crashes each year, on average that’s 3,287 deaths a day. Road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29 and unless action is taken, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death worldwide by 2030. Burkhard Bilger of The New Yorker wrote, “Human beings make terrible drivers”. So what’s to be done about it? The world’s governments declared 2011-2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety and it seems that the auto and tech industries believes that autonomous or “self-driving” cars will be the answer to the problems with the world’s roadways.

The technology for self-driving cars has been underway for decades. Today, several companies across the world are testing out self-driving cars on public roads. One such company, Google, has self-driving cars that have driven over a million miles. According to Google’s website, the self-driving car works with a combination of sensors and software. Though these cars have been in accidents, according to their maker, all of them were the fault of a distracted human in the other vehicle. Car automation such as lane departure warning, parking assist, collision warning systems, brake assist, traction control and more have made our cars safer but there is still room for improvement. Having a safer means of travel means not only far fewer fatalities but majorly decreased injuries and the medical expenses and disabilities they result in. Over 5 million people in the US alone are injured in car accidents each year.

From an economic standpoint, car accidents aren’t just costing us lives, they are costing us a ton money. Road crashes cost the U.S. an average of $230.6 billion per year. That’s an average of $820 per person per year. The Rand Transportation, Space, and Technology Program conducted research that suggests that although the overall effect of self-driving vehicle technology on energy use and pollution is uncertain, it seems likely to decrease both. It can increase fuel economy, and decrease pollution by enabling alternative use of fuels. Fewer crashes would mean the vehicles could be lighter using less material which is in the range of issues preventing progress on electric and alternative vehicles. There could also be decreased land use for fueling stations as cars could potentially refuel/ recharge on their own and fewer locations of fuel stations would be necessary.

Of course there are also concerns that self-driving cars will cause more problems than they will solve but that is an age old debate that comes along anytime we progress in technology. Factors such as the self-driving car’s ethical, legal and societal implications cannot be overlooked but it seems that there are enough benefits to consider them as a viable option for the future of transportation.


Bilger, Burkhard. “Auto Correct: Has the self-driving car at last arrived?” The New Yorker 25 November 2013: 1. Magazine.

Google. Google Self-Driving Car Project. n.d. Internet. 2 November 2015.

World Health Organization. Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013. 1.Accidents, Traffic – statistics and numerical data. 2.Accidents, Traffic – trends. 3.Wounds and injuries – epidemiology. 4.Safety. 5.Data collection. Geneva, Switzerland: Publications of The World Health Organization, 2013. Document.

Header photo by Smoothgroover22 (flickr creative commons)

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