Earlier articles have discussed the murmur of activity building up in the field of energy technology, and how the sum total of many different fields of innovation will add up to big cumulative advancements. I even go so far as to predict that there will be average-priced family sedans in 2015 that deliver 60 MPG even with 240 hp engines. But that is not the only field of exciting advances that the automobile will see over the same period.
Today, about 42,000 Americans die each year in road accidents. Most of these are young people, including thousands of children. On top of the tragic loss of life, this is very costly to the economy. From police, ambulance, emergency room, insurance, legal, and funeral resources to the productivity lost, each casualty may cost an average of $2 million. This totals to $84 billion in cost to the US economy each year. However, one detail has gone nearly unnoticed about this grim statistic : the number has not risen in over a decade, despite population and automobile growth.
Here is a table with details on the last 10 years of traffic fatalities. The deaths per mile traveled, and in proportion to the population, has been dropping by 1-2% per year. Recent additions, such as side airbags and stronger body frames, have been percolating through the system.
The rate of fatality reduction will begin to slightly accelerate with a raft of new innovations about to make their way into cars. Nanotechnology is bringing new materials science to car parts, with strong carbon fiber components weighing a fraction of their steel predecessors. With lighter vehicle weights and stronger bumpers fewer accidents will be fatal, with continual improvement through each successive advance in nanomanterials.
As guaranteed by The Impact of Computing, more electronic intelligence will percolate into cars in the form of revolutonary safety systems. Night Vision, Lane Departure Warnings, and Collision Avoiding Cruise Control are already available in luxury cars, and will rapidly improve while becoming standard, inexpensive features in all cars. The Impact of Computing necessitates that even if such systems cost $5000 today, a system 5 times better may cost under $100 in ten years.
The nanomaterials and electronic systems may at first generate false complacence and carelessness among drivers, who assume that the safety systems can negotiate any situation. Once this belief dissipates, we will see accelerating declines in annual traffic deaths each year. This will spare the lives of thousands of children who might not have otherwise had a chance to become adults. Economically, this will translate into lower auto, medical, and life insurance premiums, fewer traffic jams, and less wastage of police resources.
Prediction : By 2020, average US traffic deaths will have dropped to only 25,000 per year, despite the greater US population by then. This is against 43,000 in 2004 and 42,000 in 1995.