Will we ever live in a world without car crashes? Such a question may once have seemed Utopian to the point of madness. But nowadays, with the prospect of driverless motoring ahead of us, it’s altogether more pertinent. Just consider Google’s autonomous car. Last we heard, it had clocked up 700,000 miles of road-testing without accident. Or, rather, there was one accident – but that was when a person took over the controls, and managed to rear-end another vehicle.
That hapless Google employee sounds typical of us human beings. Apparently, the average American has a car accident once every 165,000 miles. Which means that the computers already have him beat several times over. They’re simply aware of things that are beyond our sensory experience. If something crosses their 360-degree beams, such as a cyclist or a deer coming out of nowhere, then they can react within nanoseconds. If you want to see that sort of thing in action, just check out this video.
All of which sounds wonderful. But it’s worth noting that there could be some unhappy side effects from these technological advances. According to the NHS, “traditionally organ donors have come from two groups: road accident and brain haemorrhage patients.” What happens if, thanks to improved safety, the first of these goes into decline?
This problem was highlighted by Bre Prettis in a recent interview with Fortune. The number of car accidents has already been declining across decades, thanks to improvements in our cars and roadways. But the advent of driverless motoring could make that decline precipitous. The article cites a study by the Eno Center for Transportation which suggested that the number of road accidents in America could fall by 211,000 a year, saving 1,100 lives, if only 10 per cent of vehicles were self-driving. That’s an awful lot of organs left in their owners’ bodies and out of hospital surgery wards.
It should be said, though, that this future is still some way off. According to some analysts, it will be another two decades before 10 per cent of global car sales are of the self-driving variety. And that implies many more decades before human error is taken out of motoring entirely (if it ever can be), leaving plenty of time for smart people to counter the unwanted side effects of the driverless revolution.
Indeed, Mr Prettis himself is in the 3D-printing business. Spare organs may one day come out of the laser-jet on your desks, rather than from the scene of a road accident. Problem solved!