Auto Manifesto

January 2, 2008

How to Improve Highway Safety

From a safety standpoint it is obvious that there is no way of drastically reducing the number of fatalities and injuries from highway accidents unless the drivers become much better. That simply isn’t going to happen with the human population.

There are steps that can be taken that will help, but it’s unlikely that any of these potential steps would be politically palatable. Plus they won’t make enough of a dent. The first step is to reduce the VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled). For a given fatality or injury rate, the fewer miles driven, the fewer accidents will happen.

Discretionary travel would have to be reduced. We’d have to cut the maximum speed limit to under 55 mph (about 51% of all traffic fatalities in 2006 occurred in places with speed limits 55 mph or higher according to NHTSA). Not too many Americans would be willing to do that.

How about annual driver certification to make sure everyone who is licensed can driver properly? Taking away licenses of those who don’t pass isn’t going to look good – especially if they’re AARP members. Stiffer penalties for those who break traffic laws? Draconian penalties for DUI convictions? The end result is going to be a lot of people are not going to be able to get around unless public transportation is available. And that’s going to create a whole host of other problems.

Instead of reducing the number of people who have access to individual transportation, how about increasing it while simultaneously improving safety? Is it possible?

The way we’re headed, yes. It’s quite clear that if we want to drastically improve highway safety we have to take human drivers out of the equation. The advantages and reasons are numerous. The technical, social, and economic hurdles considerable but it will happen. Yes, the future belongs to driverless cars. You just get in, tell it where to go, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

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