Ending traffic fatalities is the ultimate goal of autonomous vehicle developers. So every year that the introduction of self-driving cars is delayed means more lives lost. And the calculus keeps holding steady, unfortunately.
Last year, an estimated 36,760 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S., according to an early assessment from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That number, while representing about a 1 percent drop, has held steady for several years.
Why fatalities in the U.S. have remained roughly the same rather than steadily decreasing has left safety experts speculating as to why. In theory, deaths due to traffic accidents should be dropping because of the increased use of safety systems (e.g., electronic stability control, emergency braking, and rear view camera systems). But analysts believe that distracted driving due to smartphone use has risen so sharply that only taking the controls away from human drivers will ultimately improve safety.
For quite a while, the trend had been toward fewer deaths on America's roads with 2011 hitting the lowest--i.e., safest--point in modern times with 32,749 deaths. It's been seesawing back and forth since then with the overall trend toward more fatalities, according to NHTSA. And while the proof has been limited to small studies, most attribute the cause to smartphone use behind the wheel.
NHTSA's final report on 2018 will be out later this year. In the meantime, it's another reminder for everyone to put their phone down...and support your local autonomous car developer.