Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that there be a nationwide ban on using any kind of electronic device while behind the wheel of a car. A much better solution is to develop automatically driven cars because humans are horrible drivers.
When the NTSB made its recommendation, it pointed out that people tinkering with their phones, laptops, and GPSs while driving were responsible for 3,000 deaths last year. What's important to realize is that's just a drop in the bucket. Last year, there were almost 33,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S. alone. That's like 9/11 happened every 6 weeks... and no one paid any real attention.
Let's face it, we humans are terrible drivers. Monumentally, tragically, disastrously bad at it. The facts show that banning all cell phone use would just make us marginally better at it. The only realistic solution is to take humans out of the equation entirely.
The Self-Driving Car
I'm sure some of you are rolling your eyes at this point. To many, the self-driving car is in the same category with jetpacks and cities on the Moon: part of a science-fiction future that has yet to materialize.
There are several reasons why computer-controlled cars have never gotten out of the lab or off the test track. It wasn't until very recently that we had the technology to make this dream a reality. But powerful computers, GPS systems, and high-speed wireless networks have finally put it within our grasp.
That said, the most important reason this technology never emerged was... we didn't really want it. People like driving, and think they are good at it. Certainly better than and blankety-blank computer would be. Problem is, they aren't. And there are 33,000 fresh tombstones to prove it. And there will be about that many this year. And next year. And the year after. Need I go on?
As much as Americans say we like to drive, if you think about, really think about it, it's actually a completely boring activity. How exciting is it to drive back and forth to the office for the thousandth time? How thrilling is it to work your way through rush hour traffic to the grocery store? If you find driving exciting, you're probably not doing it right. It's so dull we are often tempted to pull out our phones and start texting or checking Twitter while we're doing it.
With a self-driving car, all that hassle and boredom would go away. You get in your car, tell it where to go, then lean back and play Angry Birds until your car beeps to tell you you have arrived. You can talk, text, update Facebook, sleep, read an eBook, anything you want.
But that's just the start. A well-designed traffic-control system will eliminate -- or at least greatly reduce -- traffic congestion, routing cars around overly busy areas. Computer-controlled cars can travel much closer together, using the roads more efficiently and taking advantage of "drafting". Think of the millions and billions of barrels of oil saved, and all the new highway lanes that won't have to be built.
Don't Dismiss the Idea: Think
Yet another one of the reasons computer-controlled cars aren't a reality is the expense of making a perfect system, one that would guarantee no one was ever injured because of computer problems.
That's the wrong way to look at it. Our current method for getting around is killing 33,000 of us a year, and injuring another 1,500,000. You don't have to be very old before 1 million people have died in car crashes in your lifetime. Any solution that's better than that is a good one. If self-driving cars could save just 20,000 lives a year, isn't it worth doing?
When you consider all of the advantages, it becomes obvious what this country needs to do: not try to ban distracted driving, but ban driving altogether.
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