Participants in a panel Friday at the Harvard Chan School expressed confidence that self-driving cars will one day dramatically reduce road deaths in the U.S. — currently at 37,000 annually — but cautioned that we’re entering a transition period in which accidents involving such vehicles will almost certainly rise.
The discussion came a little more than a month after an Uber test of a self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Arizona. Also in March, the driver of a Tesla electric car traveling in autopilot died when the vehicle crashed.
About 1.25 million people die every year on roads worldwide. Cars free of drinking, texting, and other dangers will reduce that number, panelists said.
“Human beings do not make good choices behind the wheel,” said Deborah Hersman, president and chief executive officer of the National Safety Council. “We’re hoping that machines will be better than us.”
John Leonard, vice president of research for Toyota Research Institute, said that in addition to an automated driver’s exclusive focus on the road, the potential exists for advanced sensors that surpass human reaction time.
In addition to Hersman and Leonard, “Self-Driving Cars: Pros and Cons for the Public’s Health” featured Jay Winsten, Frank Stanton Director of the Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health Communication and associate dean for health communication, and Peter Sweatman, co-founding principal of CAVita, a consulting firm for autonomous vehicle companies. The discussion was moderated by David Freeman of NBC News Digital.