Monday, April 17, 2017

Driver training and vehicle maintenance is the key to road fatalities

"Drone cars will cut accident rates" is what the headlines scream. Sure - they might but we have no proof of that yet.
What we do have proof of is that proper driving training cuts accident rates. I'll use America as my baseline because this is where I live at the moment, and in this country the driving test is laughably easy. In some states the theory test is open-book (meaning they give you the answers) yet people still fail it. And the practical test can be 5 minutes in deserted suburbia. There's no training or testing for motorway driving, driving at night, in snow, on ice, or in the rain. There's no training or testing for driving in congested city centers. Driving licenses are handed out like free candy.
This is reflected in the driver fatality numbers for America. You can't just look at the number of accidents - it's high because there's a large population. You need to look at the number of accidents per-capita. This helps give a meaningful number. Even more meaningful is the accident rate per-capita-per-mile-driven but that's a harder number to come by. So we'll use the number of deaths per 100,000 people. In America, this averages 10.6 deaths for every 100,000.
Looking at Germany, where speed is of the essence, vast stretches of the autobahn are still unrestricted, and driver training is considerably more involved (and expensive) than it is in America. Their rate is 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people - less than half that of America.
But we can do better - the Nordic countries, where getting a driving license can take up to a year and involves training and testing in all weather conditions and times of day. Norway - 3.8 per 100,000. Sweden - 2.8 per 100,000.
These numbers don't tell the whole story though. The condition of the vehicles also has a large part to play. In America, the average age of a car on the road is nearly 12 years. That's the AVERAGE, meaning there's a considerable number of old bangers still driving around with drum brakes and no airbags. In Europe the average car age is 9 years. In Sweden it's less than 5 years.
So the key to reducing road deaths is pretty obvious - better driver training and safer vehicles. I'm sure there's still a lot of people who look forward to the day they can get into their soulless automated minicab and be driven everywhere by an AI that is programmed to sacrifice their lives if the need arises, but this driver prefers to use traditional methods. I do occasional driver safety and top-up courses. Everyone should, but of course barely anyone does.
And that's the real reason drone cars are coming - because drivers have become too stupid to take responsibility for their own actions.

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