March 26th, 2018

How little is still too much?

5,736 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in USA in 2015. That is 15 people killed every day walking the roads.
37,461 people were killed in traffic crashes overall in USA in 2016. That is 102 people killed every day being on the roads. Additional (staggering) 2M+ were injured or permanently disabled.

There is nothing in the constitution, the bill of rights or the other amendments that guarantees an inalienable right for citizens, residents and other individuals to possess and operate a steel box at speeds that simply do not match our abilities to react in time to whatever may happen on the road at any given moment.

And yet, there is no public uproar. There are no petitions. There are no mass walkouts. There are no social media hashtags. There are no somber politicians sending thoughts and prayers. There is no government agency combing the aftermath of every single crash that resulted in a fatality to make sure that something like that won’t ever happen again.

Nobody gets in the car weighing their chances and deciding that yes, that trip to see their favorite team playing some other team is certainly worth the chance to die today.

Imagine getting on the plane knowing that there’s a decent chance that you’re not going to make it to your destination. Imagine a passenger plane crash happening every four days. Taking 400 lives. Twice a week or so. Because that is what is happening on the roads in this country. And every other country. More than 1.25 million people die every year world wide as a result of road traffic crashes.

And yet, there is no anger towards some kind of an organization that promotes the interests of big car manufacturers. Nobody is thinking to ostracize their friends for buying that shiny new car that can accelerate from 0 to 100 faster than ever before. There are no voices calling to raise the minimum driving age for bigger SUVs to, let’s say 21.

And here is where it gets really difficult. If self-driving / majorly-assisted technology could bring those numbers down, but not quite to zero, what would be deemed acceptable? Setting aside the juicy lawsuit targets and the initial wave of breathless headlines and rhetoric of the last few days, how little is still too much?

What happens when it’s no longer the weak excuse of “it’s fine because it was this frail human who lost their concentration for a second”? What happens when we are talking about machines of unimaginable complexity hurtling ever faster down our roads, as they take human lives on the monthly, weekly, daily or even hourly basis?

The advocates of fully self-driving future seem to never quite talk about this, pretending that somehow everything is going to be peachy and there are not going to be any human lives lost from some point going forward into eternity. This week is a rude wake-up call to regroup and start thinking about this ugly side of mass ground transportation.