Study: Autonomous Cars Will Save Lives and Money

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【Summary】According to a new study, driverless cars will save 35,000 American lives and $300 billion every year.

Original Aaron Phillips    Jan 26, 2017 6:23 PM PT
Study: Autonomous Cars Will Save Lives and Money

According to a new study by Australian fleet management consultants Global Positioning Specialists, a complete conversion to driverless vehicles would save over 35,000 lives and $300 billion annually.

The study looks at the cost of traffic accidents to the US economy. It estimates that driverless vehicles could reduce traffic deaths by 90 percent, which is in line with current estimates offered by Tesla Motors for their Autopilot 2.0 (HW2) system.

Driverless Technology and the Economy

As automakers and startups ramp up development for driverless systems, the American economy is bracing for a big change. A transition to a completely autonomous country will impact every segment and sector of the market.

For perspective, if driverless cars can reduce traffic fatalities by 90 percent, the number of deaths each year would fall to levels not seen since 1910. Overall costs would fall by roughly the same amount as the entire GDP of Israel.

Healthcare spending alone was projected to fall by $190 billion annually, according to a 2015 study published by New York-based consultants McKinsey & Company. That study predicted it would take until 2050 to see a 90 percent reduction in traffic deaths, which has been quoted as an achievable goal.

Accident Avoidance and More

Although the economic implications of autonomous cars are huge, the study's author thinks that the reduction in traffic deaths should be the driving force behind the switch to driverless cars.

"This research has two facets to it, on the one hand there is the amount of money which we spend on accidents each year, which in itself is interesting. Then you realize how many of these accidents could be avoided with new driverless technology," according to Lucile Michaut, head of Global Positioning Specialists.

An autonomous car having its parking sensors tested. Source: International Business Times

While it's true that technology, like crumple zones and airbags, have reduced the per-capita death rate of drivers to extremely low levels, the fact remains that automobile accidents are a leading killer of Americans today.

But so far, hard numbers on accident avoidance are difficult to come by.

Tesla Motors, a leading manufacturer of cars with integrated, semi-autonomous accident avoidance, keeps its data close to the vest. The 90 percent reduction in traffic deaths is a stated goal of their Autopilot 2.0 system - so far the company hasn't published any in-depth studies.

Recently, the government outlined a list of 15 guidelines for self-driving car manufacturers and developers. On the ground, however, manufacturers face a patchwork of conflicting state regulations.

Still, innovators aren't being slowed down. Recently, 10 new driverless car test tracks were announced. After they're built, test track data will be used to put hard numbers on all of the guesswork that's been taking place to date.

Driverless car manufacturers and government regulators overseeing them seem optimistic that a real reduction in traffic fatalities is possible. And even the government is quick to point out that autonomous cars will make commutes less stressful.

"We envision [a future where] you can take your hands off the wheel, and your commute becomes restful or productive instead of frustrating and exhausting," said Jeffrey Zients, the director of the National Economic Council.

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