Automobile Accidents are Easy to Prevent

 Ardeshir Mehta
21 July 2012


The Bad News

World-wide, more than a million people are killed by cars every year. In the USA alone, auto accidents cost each and every American - man, woman and child - over a thousand dollars per year. That's over $150 billion a year. Every 12 minutes, someone dies in a car crash on U.S. roads, and every 10 seconds, someone in America is injured by a car and taken to an emergency department. Every ten seconds!!!

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. According to the National Safety Council of the United States,

The calculable costs of motor-vehicle crashes are wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses, motor vehicle damage, and employers' uninsured costs. [...] The costs of all these items for each death (not each fatal crash), injury (not each injury crash), and property damage crash were:

Average Economic Cost per Death, Injury, or Crash, 2010

-        Death $1,410,000

     Nonfatal Disabling Injury $70,200

-       Property Damage Crash (including nondisabling injuries) $8,900

[...]

Expressed on a per death basis, the cost of all motor vehicle crashes i.e. fatal, nonfatal injury, and property damage was $7,280,000.

[...]

Multiplying the number of deaths by these average costs provides an estimate of the economic loss due to both deaths and injuries in these categories.

Since the number of deaths from car accidents in 2010 was almost 33,000, the total cost of them all was over $240 billion. In just one year!

Egads! and Gadzooks! Compare that with death by terrorist attacks and school shootings and the like, all of which combined, since the year 1857, have not, in the USA, exceeded 5,000. To put that in perspective, in the same 150-year period over 3,200,000 people were killed by cars in the US alone. That's over 600 times as many as killed by terrorists. It's a mind-bogglingly disproportionate ratio.

Worse still, the US Department of Transportation spends only about $5 billion a year on its safety programs, while the NSA, CIA and FBI have a combined budget that's almost four times as large.

And that's just the deaths caused by road crashes. Injuries are far more prevalent. There are around 6 million road accidents every year in the US alone, and around 3 million people are injured by them. The economic cost of all of these, in the form of cost of treating them and work-hours lost, is incalculable. It could well be half a trillion dollars every year. Given that the GDP of the United States is only $14 trillion or thereabouts, that comes to 3.5% of the entire output of the USA just going down the drain.

The Good News

Fortunately it doesn't have to be this way. We already possess the technology to almost eliminate vehicle accidents involving other vehicles, and to drastically reduce accidents involving cars on the one hand and people on the other. All that's needed is to have the will to mandate this technology in every car; and that's not too much to ask in the interests of safety, because we've already exercised our will to mandate seatbelts and airbags for the exact same reason.

Here's how it could work. GPS systems are ubiquitous and cheap, and are installed in pretty much every new car these days. They are also small: some can even fit into a pocket. Wi-fi is even more ubiquitous and inexpensive: it's built into every computer, tablet and cell phone sold today. And both GPS systems and wi-fi are getting cheaper by the year. To make them work to avoid accidents, all that's needed is software that will take into account an object's mass, speed and direction of travel, so as to predict exactly where it will be a few seconds (or microseconds) later, if it keeps going the way it's going. Such software is easy to write: in fact it already exists to enable airline pilots to land airplanes in the worst of weather and with zero visibility. (Remember we only have to write the software once: the high cost of developing it can be spread over literally billions of cars.) Combine the three - GPS, wi-fi and the necessary software - into a single gadget, and then mandate that such a gadget be installed in every road vehicle ... and you'd have the essence of an early warning system that could predict and help prevent every road collision. Each such gadget would broadcast its GPS coordinates, via wi-fi, to every other such gadget in its vicinity, and every other such gadget would use its built-in software to determine whether a collision is imminent.

Such systems could first of all alert the driver, using lights and/or sounds, that a collision is imminent, leaving the driver to control the car and avoid the collision. Any prudent driver will do so, of course, after having been so alerted. However, if the driver is incapacitated, stupid, or drunk, the system could be designed to automatically slow the car down to avoid the collision, taking over control from the driver. The driver may not like it, just as many drivers the world over don't like seatbelts, but if the system is mandatory and tamper proof, they would have no choice. It's not just for their own good, but for the good of everyone else they could ruin the lives of, so there's ample legal reason to mandate such a thing.

The cost per car would be miniscule. Even if each such gadget cost a thousand dollars, since only 17 million or so cars are sold in the US every year, it would mean an annual US expenditure of only $17 billion, which, compared with the $240 billion that road accidents cost the American economy every year, is next to nothing. In fact, even if it were mandated that such a gadget be retrofitted to every single vehicle ­- and since there are about 250 million road vehicles in America today (that includes cars, trucks and motorcycles, of course) - it would only be a one-time expense that costs just a tad more than traffic accidents cost the US economy every year.

But, you may ask, what about accidents between cars on the one hand, and people on the other? Such accidents would also be easy to prevent, if people ere to carry GPS transmitters on their persons: transmitters which would inform all cars in their vicinity of their location. Such transmitters could be made small enough to carry in a pocket, or even embed in a wrist watch; and since they would only amount to a wi-fi equipped GPS, they would be extremely cheap. As a matter of fact, personal GPS locators sold these days - about the size of an Oreo cookie - cost less than a couple of hundred dollars, and will surely get even less expensive as time goes by. Any car equipped with the gadget proposed here would be able to take into account people carrying such wi-fi-enabled GPS transmitters, and avoid hitting them.

As for accidents involving cars and other stationary objects like lamp posts, those are even easier to prevent, since the exact GPS coordinates of every lamp post in the world is easily obtainable from such things as Google Earth. Just program these coordinates into the gadget installed in every car, and Bob's your uncle.

Anyway - you get the point. Given the fact that automobile accidents are listed by the WHO in the top ten causes of death in the world, and given in addition that the CIA World Factbook gives the world mortality rate as 8.37 persons per 1,000, it comes to almost 1.23 million people being killed world-wide by motor vehicles every year. In a single lifetime (of the Biblical three-score-and-ten years) that would be more than the entire population of Germany - the most populous nation in Western Europe. Do you really want all those deaths on your conscience? If not, then don't you think you should agitate for the installation of the system recommended above, asap?





This article was written by Ardeshir Mehta, Thinker, as a public service. Ardeshir along with his son Cyrus is the inventor of "La Macchina", the most advanced automobile ever conceived, of which the above system is an integral part.

Also take a look at his Home Page, and even send him email if you want!