Automated Driving Is NOT a Lethal Alternative

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- On Tuesday, I saw TheStreet's Anton Wahlman's article, Why Self-Driving Cars Will Be Unacceptably Lethal

As a constant student and frequent reader of the autonomous driving world, I know that Wahlman's concerns are not new to the discussion. 

Many people are hesitant at best to hand over the steering wheel to our artificial-intelligence driving partner. In fact, many in the autonomous driving world believe that public approval is a steeper hurdle than the technology necessary for autonomous driving. 

Among other things, Wahlman argued that by allowing autonomous driving to take a primary role in our driving routine, we would: 

  1. Have diminished driving skills, and
  2. Not be ready at a split second's notice to take the wheel because of distractions.

Those two arguments are undeniable. Without question. Especially the first one, although that's not entirely a bad thing. If I'm a subpar parallel parker because my car does it for me, I can live with that. 

The second argument depends on the concept that the car would actually be doing the driving for us. Not just parking or automatically braking, but actually driving.  

For instance, let's say the car were able to handle the more mundane task of driving on the freeway. It's worth pointing out in this scenario, that the biggest risk for an accident is fatigue, followed by distraction. Both of which are human errors. 

Assuming we have an autonomous vehicle that can drive us on the freeway, and perhaps elsewhere, there is no doubt that we would be doing other things, as Wahlman says. Texting, emailing, reading. You could list 1,000 things.

Look, something is bound to go wrong with automation. No matter how hard engineers try, it is simply impossible to account for every scenario a driver will experience on the road. 

Upon introduction, the automated vehicles will not be perfect, as much as we would all like them to be.

But I will be blunt: Automation in the car will not simply be stopped by the argument of We have to be ready on a split second's notice and our driving skills will diminish

Automation happened in planes. It's happened in boats. The next logical step is in the car. 

These cars -- be it today's, tomorrow's or next decade's -- will not be perfect. They will have flaws. 

But coming from someone who has done extensive research on the topic -- examining current death rates of driving, the infrastructure the vehicles would run on and how these systems and cars actually operate -- I can tell you that they will be a better alternative to the error-prone human driver. 

Approximately 90% of road accidents are attributed to human error. On average, 1.3 million auto-related deaths occur worldwide per year, while another 50 million people are seriously injured. 

Now, in a world where automated driving could severely reduce those deaths, why on earth would we not accept it? 

I think Jayne O'Donnell, a consumer reporter for USA Today, summed it up perfectly when she wrote, "No one would question a cure for cancer that could eliminate as many as 80% of the deaths, [Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International] says, and that's what he believes eliminating the driver could accomplish."

According to Toscano, applying autonomous driving to today's accident rate, we would save more than 1 million lives per year and stop 40 million people from being seriously injured in an auto accident. That's incredible! 

Sure, there will still be accidents, and no, it won't be perfect.  

But even if it cut down the accident rate by 20% -- one-fourth of what Tuscano suggests -- it's still a wonder why we would reject this mode of transportation. 

So while I respect Wahlman's concerns for autonomous driving and the possible effects it may have, I disagree that it's "lethally unacceptable." In fact, I would argue that it's lethally unacceptable not to allow automated driving when it's ready. It's not like these car companies are going to introduce some shoddy automated car to the highly skeptical and over-scrutinizing public.  

Wahlman asks, "Would you like the people driving around you to have minimal experience in driving?"

To that, I answer, we already to do, and furthermore I ask: Would you rather drive next to an automated car with hundreds of thousands of backlog hours and testing from a top-rated automaker such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and General Motors (GM). Or the two six-packs-deep guy going on another beer run?

 At the time of publication, the author held no position in any stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.


-- Written by Bret Kenwell in Petoskey, Mich.

Bret Kenwell currently writes, blogs and also contributes to Robert Weinstein's Weekly Options Newsletter. Focuses on short-to-intermediate-term trading opportunities that can be exposed via options. He prefers to use debit trades on momentum setups and credit trades on support/resistance setups. He also focuses on building long-term wealth by searching for consistent, quality dividend paying companies and long-term growth companies. He considers himself the surfer, not the wave, in relation to the market and himself. He has no allegiance to either the bull side or the bear side.

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