Ask people, and they’ll tell you what they want. But observe them, and you’ll get a better sense of what they need. And by that measure, consumers are absolutely begging for someone else -- or something else -- to bear at least some of the responsibility of safe driving.
The National Safety Council estimates that fatalities from motor vehicle accidents climbed 8 percent last year to 38,300 -- the biggest percentage gain in 50 years, reversing a long period of declines. And according to the Council’s annual report on traffic safety, based on 2014 figures, three of the biggest causes of fatalities on the road are alcohol, speeding and distracted driving. That is, the human factors that make driving unsafe.
Distraction alone is a growing area of concern, and it’s not limited to chatterbox teens. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s definition of distraction also includes activities such as eating, grooming or daydreaming while driving, the inevitable results of our long commutes and packed schedules. In 2014, the latest year for which NHTSA has final figures, there were nearly 30,000 fatal crashes in the U.S., of which 10 percent involved distractions of some kind.
Now add the other causes: drowsy driving, aggressive driving, inexperience, poor judgment of speed and distance. This is the chaotic ecosystem in which we drive. Humans are, by and large, good drivers, but almost all the time, their choices and limitations are the reasons why accidents happen.
And with each choice we make to Tweet, shave, speed or drive while impaired by too little sleep or too much beer -- no matter what we tell J.D. Power -- we are signaling a demand for autonomous-driving technology.
Want to better gauge the business case for the billions of dollars invested in autonomous and self-driving technology? Then ask the right questions.
Ask people whether they would trust a self-driving car, and they may tell you no. But ask them whether they’d want the pickup truck bearing down on them from behind to have automated braking and adaptive cruise control, or whether the drowsy teen in the next lane should have lane-keep assistance, and you might get a different answer.