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October 29, 2014


Glenn Mercer

Excellent essay. I agree entirely. My take: we can get to 95% of the safety benefits without going all the way to the Level 5 car, which will probably cost twice as much (or more) than the Level 3. But the allure of the "Jetsons" car (Level 5) is strong.

Frankly, I think the industry is wrong to pitch safety as the main benefit of these cars: 33,000 traffic fatalities is 33,000 too many, of course. But given we drive about 3 trillion miles a year in the USA, that means we drive about 90,000,000 miles between fatalities. So while with one optic we can say humans cause 90% of these fatalities (true) with another we can say humans are actually pretty good at driving. Will IT be able to beat this 1 in 90,000,000 record soon? I am not sure. And if there is a failure, you can be sure of the headline: "FrankenCar Kills Family of Four." And that will set this all back a long, long way... unfortunately.

I would stress instead the mobility aspect: the opportunity to get millions of elderly or disabled Americans who cannot drive out of their homes and down to the local CVS for shopping or to the clubhouse to meet friends. The value here would be immense, and if we limited top speed to 25 mph the risk of fatality quite low. I see this thinking as behind Google's 'pivot' from high-speed on-highway uses to low-speed local-road uses: the safety claim was going to be just too hard to deliver on, while the mobility claim has immense value and lower chances of failure.

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