ROAD TRIPS. DRIVE-THROUGHS. Shopping malls. Freeways. Car chases. Road rage. Cars changed the world in all sorts of unforeseen ways. They granted enormous personal freedom, but in return they imposed heavy costs. People working on autonomous vehicles generally see their main benefits as mitigating those costs, notably road accidents, pollution and congestion. GM’s boss, Mary Barra, likes to talk of “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” AVs, their champions argue, can offer all the advantages of cars without the drawbacks.
In particular, AVs could greatly reduce deaths and injuries from road accidents. Globally, around 1.25m people die in such accidents each year, according to the WHO; it is the leading cause of death among those aged 15-29. Another 20m-50m people are injured. Most accidents occur in developing countries, where the arrival of autonomous vehicles is still some way off.