Let’s Not Forget The Public Health Crisis of Human Driving
Earlier this week, Elaine Herzber was tragically killed in an accident involving an Uber autonomous vehicle. Elaine was walking her bicycle across the street and was struck by an Uber autonomous vehicle. She died at the hospital.
This accident should cause us to reflect and consider what happened. Uber should assess why its autonomous technology did not detect Elaine. Other manufacturers should assess whether their autonomous technologies would have detected Elaine. However, this accident should not cause manufacturers to slow down or otherwise halt their development of autonomous vehicles.
You might ask why we should not slow down or otherwise halt the development of these vehicles. The answer is simple: human driving is a public health crisis.
According to the World Health Organization, road injuries were the 10th leading cause of death in the world in 2015. Each year, road traffic crashes cause more than 1.25 million deaths, and 20 to 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries.
Although an overwhelming majority of these deaths and injuries occur in low- or middle-income countries–countries where automated technology may not be widely accepted at first–the United States has significant amounts of deaths and injuries each year. In 2016, 37,461 people were killed on roadways in the United States. In 2015, 35,485 lives were taken on our roadways. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet released the number of persons injured on roadways in 2016, the numbers of injuries were 2,443,000 in 2015 and 2,338,000 in 2014. Motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause of death for 10-year-olds and people aged 16 to 23 in 2015.
If we focus solely on pedestrians, a pedestrian is killed by human drivers approximately every ninety minutes. In Arizona, where Elaine died, 224 pedestrians died in 2017. Arizona had the most pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents throughout the United States.
These numbers are staggering. Driver error, which can take shape in a number of ways, is responsible for 90% to 95% of all accidents. Driver error could be driver distraction (e.g., looking at your phone while driving), driver drowsiness, intoxication, or poor judgment or a bad driving maneuver. For examples, in 2016, 28.02% (10,497) of the motor vehicle deaths were caused by a drunk driver and 26.99% (10,111) of the motor vehicle deaths were caused by a driver who was speeding.
These types of human error can be prevented by automated technology. Autonomous technology “does not drink alcohol; it does not get drowsy; and it does not make phone calls, text, eat, or engage in any other activity that distracts the human driver.” In addition, as one scholar noted, the technology “‘sees’ everything in the vicinity; reacts at speeds humans cannot match; and constantly checks the performance of every component in the vehicle to ensure that it is functioning properly.” For these reasons, autonomous vehicles should prevent a significant amount of these accidents.
These statistics do not mean that we should discount or otherwise diminish Elaine’s tragic death, but it does mean that we should not view Uber’s accident in a vacuum. We need to consider and remember the bigger picture. And as the police chief noted, Elaine may have died regardless of whether the vehicle was an autonomous vehicle (even though the LIDAR should have detected Elaine). We cannot forget that autonomous vehicles are predicted to cure the public health crisis of human driving.