By Umaro Djau | USC Graduate Student, Fall 2016
If there is one thing that gets my attention, the idea of saving money is undoubtedly one of them. Lately, I have been entertained with the idea of reducing the cost of my car insurance. For many Americans, car insurance is probably their third highest bill after their mortgage and car payment. So, the prospect of saving on car insurance is most likely very exciting news to millions around the world.
You may have already heard about it, read about it or even seen experts talking about it on your local news channel, television or cable network. The federal government is certainly excited about it. Many U.S. high-ranking officials such as the White House economic adviser are keen to tell us that self-driving and autonomous cars will play a significant role in driving down the costs of auto insurance and completely change our lives — regardless of your age group.
But if saving money is not among your biggest worries, then consider something that everyone wishes never happens. Car accidents and their related deaths are tragic realities in all of our cities, towns and communities. Many of us have had the misfortune of being affected by them.
In the United States alone, more than 35,000 people die every year due to motor vehicle traffic accidents (NHTSA, 2015). According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015 alone there was a 7.7 percent increase in deaths, up from the 32,675 reported fatalities in 2014.
In the light of these tragic national figures, there is a strong likelihood that — if not you — you probably know someone who lost a relative or a person who was very close to their heart in a motor vehicle accident.
With this painful reminder in mind, I invite you to learn about something that may dramatically reduce the risks of car accidents. The era of self-driving and driver-less cars is almost here. Well, it has been around for awhile if you were to ask a Tesla driver, Uber or a Google test driver. These and many other vehicle manufacturing companies have been testing and planning to deploy autonomous cars in many parts of the country and around the world. Watch video: A Ride in the Google Self Driving Car
Now, they have gotten the backing of a major stakeholder, America’s federal government. In the mid-September, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued its Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, the first of its kind. These new guidelines will assist manufacturers, technological companies, states and all interested agencies in developing and regulating the safe use of these self-driving vehicles. However, as many officials and experts like to remind us, these are just regulatory guidelines — at least for now.
Even so, this certainly has been a huge news story, particularly in the United States. Just listen to NPR Business Desk Correspondent Sonari Glinton talking about the issue. Glinton lost his father in a car accident, and in his eyes, this is a big moment for millions.
The question that many are asking is how long it will take for computerized-autonomous cars to replace drivers. A lot of work at the federal and state levels and rules and regulations will be needed before your “futuristic” ride in your city or around the country.
“We’re envisioning a future when you can take your hands off the wheel and the wheel out of the car and where your commute becomes productive or restful rather than frustrating or exhausting.” — Jeff Zients, the director of the National Economic Council, from npr.org
Despite the skepticism and the fear among Americans, the prospect of avoiding 94 percent of human-related errors that cause car accidents while sparing the lives of more than 30,000 Americans is absolutely worthy of our attention, investment and dedication. In the process, we are expected to build a new economy, thanks to an estimated surplus of $160 billion per year or about 3.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the White House (NPR, 2016).
Now, $160 billion per year worth of gas and time spent in traffic is a huge savings by all accounts, even for people like me who are not economists. I am not sure how much I will be able to save, but paying much less that I am paying now will only be a good thing, if not a new beginning for all of us around the world.
Google Self-Driving Car Project (2014, May 27). A Ride in the Google Self Driving Car [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsaES–OTzM
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2015, July 1, 2016). NHTSA data shows traffic deaths up 7.7 percent in 2015. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/nhtsa-2015-traffic-deaths-up-07012016
NPR (2016, February 24). Google Makes The Case For A Hands-Off Approach To Self-Driving Cars. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/02/24/467983440/google-makes-the-case-for-a-hands-off-approach-to-self-driving-cars
NPR (2016, September 19). Government Says Self-Driving Vehicles Will Save Money, Time, Lives. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/19/494648888/feds-to-set-rules-on-self-driving-vehicles
NPR (2016, February 23). Should Self-Driving Cars Have Drivers Ready To Take Over? Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/02/23/467836500/should-self-driving-cars-have-drivers-ready-to-take-over
NPR (2016, September 20). Transportation Officials To Issue Rules For Self-Driving Vehicles. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2016/09/20/494684730/transportation-officials-to-issue-rules-for-self-driving-vehicles
NPR (2016, September 14). What It’s Like To Ride In A (Nearly) Self-Driving Uber. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/09/14/493823483/self-driving-cars-take-to-the-streets-of-pittsburgh-courtesy-of-uber
Wired (2016, September 14). Inside Uber’s Self-Driving Car [Video]. Retrieved from