As an emergency physician, I know that not every injury can be prevented, nor can every crash victim be saved. But the overriding principle in medicine, the oath that every doctor takes, is that first, we shall do no harm to our patients.
Autonomous cars can provide tremendous benefits in terms of safety, environment, health and mobility. Death by car is still a leading killer in the U.S. and worldwide. In order to achieve the benefits and build public trust, there must be a strong unifying vision, a shared commitment to safety and a coordinated effort by governments and the industry to make autonomous vehicles safe for all. This is not only possible; it's being done in communities around the world.
One example is Vision Zero, a philosophical concept that started in Sweden in 1990 and is based on two radical ideas that now are well-accepted. First, every injury and every death on the roadway is unacceptable. Second, the designers and developers of roadways and vehicles would take responsibility for the safety of their systems. This shared mindset has brought diverse groups together around a shared vision and enabled them to achieve impressive results in reducing traffic deaths.
In the U.S., different government agencies, technology companies and automotive manufacturers have varied approaches to Vision Zero, but none have decided to truly "own the problem." If you disconnect the driver from control of the vehicle, doesn't somebody have to step up and take responsibility? Physicians and nurses do it every day.
Owning the problem, taking responsibility and being accountable are essential to building the public trust needed for success.
Another example is the Health Effects Institute, a public-private partnership that seeks solutions to potential and recognized health risks in the transportation sector. It represents the type of independent leadership required to bring all sides to the table, secure the public trust and ensure that the U.S. remains a world leader in development of autonomous transportation.
Convincing major players in the intensely competitive automotive and technology sectors to collaborate on a shared goal of safety as the top priority won't be easy. Asking them to take responsibility may be even harder. But the opportunity to accelerate the growth, acceptance and success of autonomous cars and American innovation requires it.
Skeptics say, "You can't really prevent all motor vehicle deaths and injuries, can you?" The answer, of course, is no, but you can try and commit to adopt the philosophy that one will, first, do no harm.