The National Safety Council (NSC) has launched a new initiative that takes aim at the rising trend of auto fatalities. The campaign, dubbed “Road to Zero” aims to “eliminate traffic fatalities within the next 30 years.”
While we very much laud the initiative’s lofty goal, its reliance on new technologies like driverless cars and smart cities will delay meaningful progress toward reducing the alarming trend in auto fatalities. Each day, more than 100 people die each day on our roads, so every day we don’t address the problem is wasted.
A few reasons why pinning hope on driverless cars is a risky, and in my mind, unacceptable bet:
All of this is not to say we shouldn’t aim high. But we can’t afford to wait 30 years and hope a nacent technology will solve all our problems. We should be focusing on making progress with the cars, systems and technology we have available today.
We need look no farther than the approach to reduce drunk driving that began 20 years ago. Applying existing tools and aiming for tangible, incremental benefits, the campaign successfully raised the drinking age, established a standard Blood Alcohol Limit (BAC), and created license revocation and ignition interlock laws. The result has been a 52 percent reduction in drunk driving fatalities overall, and 79 percent reduction for drivers under the age of 21, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.
Today, we’re seeing similar progress on the distracted driving front. A number of states are prohibiting texting and driving or requiring handsfree devices for phone calls; law enforcement is increasingly investigating whether distraction is involved in crashes; and several technologies have been developed to block texts or prevent smartphone use while driving.
We can, and should do more. Our app users are 4 times safer than the typical driver. Data from our mobile app, which tracks actual distraction by drivers (based on sensors in the phone rather than surveys) shows that 93 percent of drivers had some type of phone use while driving, with 71 percent of them having texted. We also found drivers spend an average of 21 percent of their time– or one in every 5 five minutes — behind the wheel distracted. Clearly there is an enormous margin for improvement among drivers that are on the road today.
We must not entrust the safety of ourselves, our children and friends to the distant hope of an automated future. Too many people will be hurt or killed in the meantime. Right now, we must work to reduce distracted driving and bend the trend of rising fatalities back to a downward slope. If we do this each year, we will get closer to Zero a lot quicker than pinning our hopes on a future technology that might be unable to deliver the perfection that is being hyped today.
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