For most of our country’s history, travel was confined to walking, horseback, or the horse-drawn carriage, resulting in a limited range of destinations. In the late 19th century transportation took a leap forward when trains allowed for rapid long distance travel. Continued technological advances permitted the development of airplanes, subways, buses, and, most important, the automobile. The parallel evolution of streets and highways provided a comfortable, generally reliable system of personal travel from home to anywhere at anytime.
Initially, there was widespread distrust of the noisy, strange contraption generally called the “horseless carriage.” There was great public concern about its safety in spite of the fact that travel by horse was much more dangerous.
Laws requiring every automobile to be preceded by a responsible person carrying a red flag were not uncommon!
We now have a vast complex network of roadways, but they are often inadequate, deteriorated, obsolete, and dangerous. Vehicles traveling on them— automobiles, buses, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles — are often incompatible, in various states of disrepair, and are typically operated by drivers with little training, monitoring, or regulation. The major failure of our current transportation “system” is illustrated by a proliferation of highway crashes in the U. S. that now result in about 100 deaths and thousands of injuries on any given day. In addition to the resultant pain and suffering, direct costs (damage, medical care, loss of income, etc.) are approximately $300 billion per year.
Today, many motorists, and a few special interest groups, are concerned about the movement toward automated or “driverless” cars. The development and implementation of self-driving cars will no doubt be a slow process with many engineering challenges, such as vehicle/roadway and vehicle/vehicle interactions. The transition period will be lengthy and will undoubtedly include many setbacks, and a few spectacular crashes, but the potential benefits are enormous.
Long distance trips will be less tiring, urban traffic flow will be more efficient with less congestion and fewer delays, and the accidents caused by reckless drivers will be dramatically reduced. The ultimate benefit will be elimination of most of the tens of thousands of deaths and millions of injuries that occur each year.
In my opinion, this is a worthy goal to pursue.
More information on related topics can be found in Highway Accidents: Investigation, Reconstruction and Causation available at: Amazon.com. Information about the book and author is available at: www.bmorrow.com.