'The Next Revolution' is Almost Here

In a crashless world, U.S. emergency rooms won't have to treat more than 2 million crash victims per year as they do now.

Several readers commented on my August 2012 editor's note about texting while driving; one person said manual transmission vehicles would solve it. True, but I don't believe the driving public or automakers will go that route.

Come 2025, we may be seeing fairly broad adoption of something that would solve the problem: self-driving vehicles. So says a new report (http://www.cargroup.org/assets/files/self_driving_cars.pdf) prepared by KPMG and the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Three adoption scenarios are possible, with the most conservative among them predicting adoption levels never reach critical mass after NHTSA casts doubt on the viability of vehicle-to-vehicle technology. Technology breakthroughs and consumers' enthusiasm are keys to the most aggressive scenario they foresee.

It's an intriguing report with predictions suggesting the technologies are already well advanced. It says the first self-driving vehicles might be in showrooms just six years from now.

What are the payoffs?

  • Cars and trucks would be lighter and thus more fuel-efficient because these "crashless" vehicles won't need as much structural steel or as many safety devices, such as airbags. (The report says in a crashless world, U.S. emergency rooms won't have to treat more than 2 million crash victims per year as they do now.)
  • Much less will be spent on expanding highways and constructing new roads.
  • Fewer traffic lights and road lights would be needed, saving energy.
  • Just-in-time delivery would become even more efficient.
  • Auto insurance would change and perhaps disappear.
  • State and local governments would lose traffic fine revenue and might institute infrastructure usage fees to replace it.

The authors of the report, which is titled "Self-Driving Cars: The Next Revolution," said they're optimistic: "We believe convergence of sensor-based and connected-vehicle technologies will happen and will have a positive effect on the adoption of both systems. We think drivers will take the leap. Convergence will bring enhanced mobility and safety and reduced environmental impacts. It may also have far-reaching implications for the traditional automotive value chain and beyond."

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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