Saturday, August 29, 2009

How Dangerous is the Road?

Using data from 2005, as supplied by the National Safety Council, we can add up all the number of deaths related to normal road travel, that is excluding categories such as 3-wheeled vehicles, ATV's, construction equipment, trains and so forth but including pedestrian and bicycle deaths since the vast majority of these are caused by collisions with other motor vehicles. Including the very ambiguous unspecified transportation-related category, the result is 45,180. Since the total number of external injury deaths (which excludes health related mortality such as cancer and heart disease but oddly including suicide) is 176,406, we can subtract to get the number of deaths unrelated to driving: 176,406-45,180 = 131,226. To get the percent of external injury deaths related to cars, we divide the category by the total, 45,180 / 176,406 = .2561, thus 25.61% or one quarter of the people who died from external injuries in 2005 did so because of car accidents.

However, if you choose to not consider suicide an external injury, the percentage jumps up to 31.43%, or nearly one third.

Using statistical projections from Carnegie-Mellon, we can (somewhat sloppily) extrapolate these results across all causes and by age group into the next year. We take the number of injuries in "accidental" and multiply by .3143, which is acceptable since this data doesn't include suicide in accidents. Now we divide the result by the sum of all causes for each age group, and come up with:

Age     % Projected to die from motor vehicle accidents

5-9          12.59 %
10-19      14.75 %
20-29      11.98 %
30-39      7.17 %
40-49      3.86 %
50-59      1.66 %
60-69      0.71 %
70-79      0.56 %
80           0.57 %
All           1.32 %

These figures aren't necessarily very precise at all, but the general idea is the same, cars are really dangerous. Studies have shown that talking on a cell phone while driving increases the chance of a car accident by 400%, and my guess would be that there has been a substantial increase in driving while talking since 2005, suggesting a similar increase in vehicular accidents. Nonetheless, using these figures we can see that people under the age of 40 are generally more likely to die from a simple car accident than anything else. It's time to face the facts: humans are not equipped to react appropriately to everyday driving conditions - from the neurophysiological perspective we simply can't react fast enough, as the time for a neural impulse to transmit from eyes to feet is substantial enough that it is measurable with a normal watch. If you want to test this, get 5 or 10 people holding hands. The game is to have one person squeeze their neighbors hand, who is then to squeeze the next person. Another person can measure how long it takes the "pulse" to go from beginning to end; that time divided by the number of people is the average amount of time it takes to propagate a real neural impulse from one hand to the other. Again, if you do this from foot to hand (if you can manage to find enough willing people), you get maximal neural distance and it takes measurably longer. When moving at 40 mph, milliseconds make a difference, and this reaction time is not even considering the amount of distraction we have in the extremely fast paced modern era nor the amount of unpredictable obstacles (other people on cell phones) we must be aware of to be safe, which often exceeds the amount of things we can be conscious of at any moment. Add into the mix blind turns, unskilled drivers, and thousands of other impediments and there is no uncertainty in the result: people should not be allowed to drive.

We have the technology for automated vehicles, it is very doable, and now more than ever we have both the need and chance to make this a reality. Combined with the fresh and tenable (enough to get $100,000 in DOT funding for development) idea of solar panels embedded in roads, we could save many lives, increase efficiency of travel and energy, banish automotive And power plant pollution, etc. etc. Where is the downside?

Am I the only one thinking this through??

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