On Safety: Driver Health Issues

I have not started writing this blog like a book.  It’s a blog with (more or less) stand-alone articles.  One topic that I’ve not discussed other than as a given is that autonomous cars will be far safer.  I may have quoted articles that claim that 90% of accidents are human-caused.  I may have even suggested that most accidents would go away if human error was eliminated.

I whole-heartedly believe this is true for several reasons.  First of all, all of my personal experience, and that of my parents, indicates this.  So do the statistics.  I happen to believe that a recent friend passed because of driver error.  (It’s is a little too soon for me to dig very deep.)  I also believe that another friend passed when she had a medical event.  It’s that possibility that I’m going to explore now.

What I’m talking about is “How many drivers have an acute medical condition that causes a traffic fatality.”  I’m including things like aneurism, seizure, heart attack, and stroke.  I don’t mean to include someone with poor eyesight, hearing, or mobility. I also don’t mean to include fatigue, though that, distraction, and drug influence are separate issues that affect drivers and not computers.

When a driver has some such incident, that person may lose control of their vehicle, causing an accident.  In fact, it is estimated that medical conditions are a cause of approximately 5-10% of all accidents.  This seems to include both chronic issues and some acute issues such as heart attacks.  This would be an area where even type 2 and type 3 vehicles would have a HUGE advantage over type 0 vehicles.  If a person has a sudden incident, be it cardiac, central nervous, or even psychological, a car with advanced automation will be able to save lives instead of becoming a dangerous implement of destruction.

While the financial and human cost (in terms of number of lives) of accidents has been discussed at length, there are more costs.  One cost that has not been discussed with enough frequency is the psychological toll of a traffic accident.  There are the direct psychological impacts that affect those actually in the accident.  The trauma, guilt, and anger can affect people for the rest of their lives.  There are also the secondary impacts.  The obvious candidates here are those who lose a loved one.  There are also those who have to deal with the shame and sorrow of having a loved one cause and accident.  Recently, a woman was involved in a bus accident.  Fortunately, no children were badly hurt.  It turned out later that she had a medical emergency while driving that caused her to lose control of her car.  The guilt that would have followed for her friends if this had been a truly tragic story can not be underestimated.

I look forward to the day when automation can determine the driving ability of an individual and suggest stopping.  Even more, I look forward to the day when the car will not need a conscious driver, and therefore could deliver the victim of a medical emergency directly to the hospital.



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