Few barriers remain for self-driving vehicle tech development, particularly in light of recent actions by the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Department of Transportation. This week’s release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration‘s 2016 Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes report adds to the preponderance that human drivers on our roads are killing people at increasing rates.
According to the report, in 2016, there were 37,461 people killed in motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways. The number of 2016 traffic fatalities rose by 1,976 compared to 2015 when there were 35,485 deaths. Tha i’s a 5.6 percent increase. There was a 2.2 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2016 compared to 2015, but that rise doesn’t account for the higher death rate. In 2015, the fatality rate per 100 million VMT was 1.15. In 2016, the rate grew to 1.18 deaths per 100 million VMT. So even taking the increased miles traveled, into account, the fatality rate is up by 2.6 percent.
The increases in fatalities spread across all vehicle categories and for both vehicle occupants and occupants. Occupant deaths in passenger vehicles (including cars and light trucks) rose by 4.7 percent. Motorcyclist fatalities increased by 5.1 percent. Both motorcycle and passenger vehicle fatality numbers were the highest since 2008. Pedalcyclist deaths in motor vehicle crashes increased by 1.3 percent. The largest fatal crash percentage increase in the 2016 NHTSA Fatality Report involved pedestrians, with an increase of 9.0 percent compared to 2015.
Human error is involved in 94 to 96 percent of all motor vehicle crashes. The federal government, insurance companies, the medical community, and other groups are pushing the introduction of autonomous vehicles as soon as possible to reduce the traffic death rate.
In September and October, three significant actions in Washington, D.C. demonstrated the bipartisan focus on advancing self-driving technology. The House of Representatives passed the Self-Drive Act Law nearly unanimously. The Senate voted in favor of bringing its self-driving law out of committee for general action. Also the Department of Transportation release version 2.0 of the NHTSA guidelines for developing autonomous technology and deploying self-driving vehicles on U.S. roadways.
Following the release of the NHTSA fatality report, Self-Driving Coalition general counsel and former NHTSA administrator David Strickland stated: “With more than 37,000 lives lost on U.S. roads and highways last year, it is critical that policymakers support the safety benefits of fully self-driving technology. The United States cannot continue to witness these year-over-year increases in traffic fatalities. Human error causes 94 percent of all motor vehicle crashes, due to mistakes like speeding, fatigue and drunk and distracted driving. By removing humans from the driving process, self-driving vehicles offer an opportunity to significantly reduce the number of our loved ones killed and injured in crashes each year.”