The leading cause of car accidents is pretty obvious – its human error. Whether its drunk driving, distracted driving, or aggressive driving, it all comes back to the person behind the wheel. Less than 20% of accidents are caused by road or mechanical failure, so the only way to truly make driving safer for everyone is to give the person behind the wheel more tools to drive safely – or even remove the human element altogether.
Here are five things that can put us on a path to ZERO human error car crashes by 2020:
1. Less Distracted Driving
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called texting while driving a “national epidemic.” Most states have banned handheld talking and texting while driving and there are a variety of apps that promise to curb texting while driving. Driving incidents from distracted driving are actually on the decline thanks to public awareness campaigns.
Along the same lines, Kia Motors is working on a concept that would recognize “whether the driver’s eyes are opened or closed, examining alertness and safeguarding against an accident caused by the driver falling asleep at the wheel.”
2. Gamification and Augmented Reality
Its not enough to merely take away some distractions. We need to encourage better driving and focus attention on the road. One way to do that would be to make driving more like a video game, where you get points for good behavior.
Gamification—literally making life gamelike—is spreading, and is being used in a growing variety of applications. For example, the new Ford Focus encourages maximizing fuel efficiency by teaching lessons about breaking and acceleration and rewards behavior with achievement badges. These same lessons could be applied to aggressive driving, encouraging good behavior and discouraging bad ones.
Smart windshields, like this one GM was talking up a couple years ago, will use augmented reality to help keep the drivers’ eyes on the road, eliminating the need to look down at the speedometer, fuel gauge, or even smart phone. The windshield could display your speed and the posted speed, GPS directions, fuel alerts, important messages, and even highlight dangerous objects on the road. Manufacturers will need to find the right balance so as not to overload the driver with too many heads up distractions.
3. Autonomous Emergency Braking systems (AEBs)
The European Commission is mandating AEBs in all new vehicles on the Continent by 2014. The system will monitor how close a driver is to another car and can take automatic action to prevent a collision. “Estimates suggest the use of AEBs can reduce road accidents by 27%, save 8,000 lives per year, and billions in accident-related costs.”4. Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) and Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication systems
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been working on V2V technology for the past decade with most of the major auto manufacturers. The goal is to create a seamless network that allows vehicles to communicate with each other and road infrastructure to provide better intelligence and warning systems for drivers.
“The largest-ever real-world test of V2V and V2I technologies consisting of almost 3,000 cars, trucks and buses in Ann Arbor, Mich” began this week. The University of Michigan was awarded the contract from USDOT to install the V2V devices in a pilot program to help drivers prevent car crashes. The results of the program will help inform NHTSA regulatory decisions in 2013. Since the effectiveness of the technology will rely on mass adoption, it likely means mandating the system in new vehicles. According to Eric Eiswerth, the Safety Research Project Manager for Ford, V2V/V2I “communications have the potential to address 82% of the vehicle crash scenarios involving unimpaired drivers.”
5. Remove the Human Driver – Autonomous Vehicles
Last but not least, autonomous vehicles are coming sooner than you’d think. Google has road tested a fleet of autonomous Priuses for more than 300,000 miles without a single accident. They famously tested one with a blind man in the driver seat. Nevada is the first state where they can be legally operated in public and I would expect other states to follow suit. Autonomous vehicles would also appeal to segments that can’t or prefer not to drive, like the elderly and disabled, or even long distance commuters who could be preparing for their next business meeting or taking a nap.
V2V/V2I and self driving cars are not a forgone conclusion. There are a lot of car enthusiasts who would see these technologies as an infringement on their personal freedoms. Driving is more than just about getting from point A to point B for a lot of people. Many would never voluntarily give up control even for the promises of better safety, less traffic, fuel efficiency, and convenience. Motorcyclists in Michigan embodied this attitude when they celebrated their state’s helmet repeal law in June saying “It isn’t about wearing helmets, it’s about choice, it’s about our freedoms.”
Getting past that attitude is going to be a significant challenge.
So what do you think, can we get to ZERO human error car crashes by 2020 or even 2030?
Because of the mix of tech-enabled and “legacy” cars that won’t have these emerging safety systems, it’s unlikely by 2020… but back in 2009 Volvo vowed that no one driving one of its cars would be killed or seriously injured after 2020. That’s a bold and worthy goal, for sure.
I look forward to the day when an automaker, city, or nation sets the even more audacious goal of zero human error crashes…