The good news is that fewer people are dying in car crashes. The bad news is that distracted driving from fiddling with digital devices is responsible for more and more of the deaths that are happening on the road. Cars are also killing more pedestrians. The jump in those deaths has also been attributed to our obsession with online activity.
Public-safety officials are scrambling to figure out how to get drivers to stop answering their cell phone, checking their email, and updating their Facebook status as they speed down the street. One answer may be new technology that is being pioneered for police, fire, and ambulance crews. When first responders are speeding to the scene they struggle to operate safely, tap into their computers and get to the scene as fast as they can. Perhaps some of the innovations they adopt might help keep stupid people from killing by driving and texting at the same time.
But the best solution to deal with distracted driving will be to stop having stupid people drive. No. We are not talking mass transit. The problem with mass transit is that it doesn’t work for all of the masses. The best answer is putting Americans in autonomous autos.
Arguably, the technology for delivering self-driving cars is proceeding far faster than the auto industry’s ability to deliver products to consumers.
Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, swears it going to happen sooner rather later. “Any cars that are being made that don’t have full autonomy will have negative value. It will be like owning a horse. You will only be owning it for sentimental reasons,” he believes.
Musk may be confident, but it is still not happening fast enough, as the public and private sectors fret over all kinds of issues.
The most encouraging news to come out of the hearing was that the last step Washington needs to take is stepping in the way and stopping progress. “With all due respect, our industry can’t afford to wait for government and we’re not doing that,” argued General Motors’ Harry Lightsey. “I think that the industry needs the freedom to innovate and to do that work.”
Let the consumer drive the autonomous-auto revolution. They may not be smart enough to stop texting and driving, but they know enough to grab on to a cool and useful new technology when they see one.
Let car makers prove they can master the challenges of putting us in the cars we want.