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  • Peter McAllister

The car costs us around a million lives a year.



In the early 1890’s some states in the East coast of America (and in the UK) had the Red Flag Act. With those laws, you were allowed to drive your new-fangled automobile down the roads at a speed limit of 4 miles per hour, providing you had a person walking in front of the car with a red flag (or a red light at night) to warn the locals that there was a potentially dangerous machine coming that they needed to be prepared to take evasive action if the car go out of control.


That legislation was repealed by the turn of the century. While the number of people killed and injured in the early days was low, the number of deaths each year worldwide due to cars have risen to over 1 million per year.


But nobody is talking about shutting down cars to save lives – why? Because we have made a deal! The deal is that we get so much as a society out of having cars, that we are prepared for many other people to die (as long as it is not me or my family - but you probably do know someone who died because of a car).


So as a society we have done the cost/benefit analysis and decided it is worth it.


The person with the red flag is a lot like the backup driver in an autonomous car – the human supervisor of the technology to prevent it from causing harm to people.


What will happen when the backup driver goes the way of the flagman – some 140 years later? It will start with the in-depth scrutiny of any accident involving an autonomous vehicle and the blame (in the news) falling on the participant that can’t defend itself – the car.


But with human error the sole contributing factor in 57% of car accidents, and a contributing factor in 90%, as these autonomous cars start to dominate the roads, the deaths will fall – people will still die, but in far fewer numbers.


The benefit is clear, but what is the cost?


Is it time to take the modern day flagmen out the co-pilot seat and let the AI do it’s job?

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