Self-driving cars are going to kill people, it’s not a maybe, it’s a fact. Actually, self-driving cars will probably kill thousands of people once they become common place. And yesterday in Phoenix, home of our MGR Agency, a woman was killed by an Uber operated self-driving car.
But just because people will die in self-driving car related accidents, it doesn’t mean that we should stop pursuing and progressing the technology.
The idea that a woman dying in an accident, involving an autonomous car, is significant enough to become an international headline could actually be encouraging to us. It means that self-driving cars are doing a good job. It is very tragic that this woman died, and my thoughts go out to her and her family. And, all the companies developing this technology should learn from what happened and improve whatever system went wrong internally to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Now, why am I saying that this terrible news could be encouraging? Because if we had a headline for every car related death, then we would have about 109 of those headlines every single day. And that’s just in the US, because worldwide over 1.2 million people die every year in car-accidents. But because it’s so common, it doesn’t get reported on in individual cases. Meaning the fact that this is the first ever death caused by a malfunctioning** car, is astonishing.
**New Update: Reports are now saying that this accident would have been very difficult to avoid for any car, so the car might not have even malfunctioned. The Uber had a forward-facing video recorder, which showed the woman was walking a bike at about 10 p.m. and moved into traffic from a dark center median. “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode,” Sylvia Moir, the police chief in Tempe, Arizona, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
For the majority of you who don’t live in Phoenix, just so you know, we are the world’s capital of self-driving cars. I’m serious, not a single day goes by where I don’t see at least 5 self-driving cars on the road. Some are Google’s (Waymo), some are Uber’s, and you’ll occasionally see one by some smaller company or start-up. Which means that they are driving A LOT, and it’s been like this for over a year now. And in that large sample size, this is the first fatal accident.
Google has actually reported that in 3 years of testing, they’ve had 14 accidents. 13 were caused by another driver making a mistake. And the single one that was their vehicle’s fault was a low speed side-scrape that damaged some paint, but that’s about it. The reason for the scrape was that there were sandbags left in the road and the car was attempting to avoid them.
I think you get my point. While every death is tragic, and even just one death is one too many, if the roads were filled with self-driving cars, there would be thousands of American lives saved every year because human error would be removed from the equation.
The faster autonomous driving tech gets developed, and the sooner we have full functioning self-driving cars on the road, the safer our roads will be. And it’s just quite simply because computers make many orders of magnitude and fewer mistakes than people do. If you need to check your math, you use a calculator. Is there a chance that it could malfunction and give you the wrong answer? Yes, but that would be quite the anomaly.
That’s the goal of self-driving cars, to take the commonality that is road deaths and make them extreme anomalies.
All of this, and I have yet to even mention the least discussed, but massively important thing that autonomous cars bring: More time.
Think about all the time you waste in traffic EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. That time can now be used for you. To do whatever you want while your car takes you to where you’re going. You can read a book, take an online course, do school work, do actual work for your job or for your own business if you have one.
Note: the above graphic is just one way, so X2 for daily commute.
In America, the average commute is almost 1 hour per day, that’s a entire hour every day that you currently don’t have. A whole hour every single day that is lost to the bottomless abyss that is roadway traffic.
Self-driving cars could cause the single largest economic boon of the coming decade.
Say you have a freelance side business and you charge just $20/ hour. That’s $20 more you can make each day, that’s $100 extra every single week. That’s a potential $5000+ per year that you could be making if you could use the time you wasted in traffic productively. Now multiply that times 160 million Americans.
Now that’s what I call a boon baby.
And the other major economic benefit that many others have previously pointed out is that you might not have to own a car. Ideally you could travel solely via a self-driving car service (Which is what Uber & Waymo will turn into) which will cost you less than owning a car.
So yes, people will die because of self-driving cars, but that number will be far, far fewer than already die by human driven cars. And there’s a strong likelihood that self-driving cars actually do have a colossally positive economic impact for everyone.
So when you see a headline about a death or injury that autonomous vehicles are responsible for, hold the companies accountable for ensuring that those same errors or malfunctions that caused them don’t happen again. But please, don’t freak out or riot against this life-improving tech.
Thank you for reading. Until next time, this is David Gil.
*Photo/graphic by UBER ATG