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Human Drivers: Vital Component Or Safety Flaw?

Car crashes take an unbelievable toll on humanity. In the U.S., a good safety year still sees more than 30,000 people killed in motor vehicle accidents. Worldwide, the number is closer to one million. One million people die in traffic accidents each year and the vast majority of those accidents are caused by human error. While it is far from clear that any of the driverless cars being tested by Google and other companies could do better, it is clear that humans leave something to be desired when it comes to safe driving. A new proposal from the California Department of Motor Vehicles could seriously delay the effort to see if driverless cars could improve the situation.

The California DMV is looking to require DMV-certified "autonomous vehicle operators" be present in all vehicles operated by autonomous systems. The idea is that a human would be there, ready to take control of the car if the autonomous system fails. That idea seems to ignore the evidence that humans don't do a particularly good job of paying attention to the road even when they are the only thing controlling the vehicle. 

The requirement functionally bans driverless vehicles. If picked up by other states, the measure could slow or stop driverless vehicle testing just as the technology is showing promise. Driverless vehicles have the potential to solve or at least address a number of problems, including safety and environmental concerns. While the technology might prove unworkable or unwise, it at least deserves a chance to reduce the shocking number of deaths caused by cars and trucks each year.

Source: Forbes, "California Wrongly Slams the Brakes on Google's Driverless Car," by Chunka Mui, 18 December 2015 

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