OK computer, take me home

When you are driving from Macon, up I-75 to Atlanta, or down I-16 to Savannah, there are things you can do to have a safer trip. If your vehicle is in good operation condition, you can make sure you have had enough sleep, don't speed, avoid any impairing alcohol or medicine and leave your cellphone turned off and out of sight. By remaining focused on the road and vehicles around you, you can greatly increase your chances of arriving safely.

Of course, you can't control any of those behaviors in other drivers. If a fatigued truck driver fall asleep and crosses the median, you can only hope you are aware of it in time to take evasive action. All of your careful preparation and safe driving habits can be wiped out by a drunk driver speeding through a stop sign and striking your car broadside. 

With tens of thousands of car accidents caused by driver negligence and human error, it seems like an insurmountable problem. Humans like to do things they should not, so what can be done to make them stop? Laws and enforcement can only go so far before they are too oppressive or too expensive.

One solution is offered by the driverless car, or more precisely, the car without a human driver. A computer, using radar and thermal sensors, with a GPS, is used to guide a car to any destination.

Science fiction? GM is currently testing a vehicle on the roads near Pittsburgh. Google has vehicles that have logged thousands of miles. Experts indicate the technology could be viable as soon as 2020.

They may not be on the road that soon, but the technology may be mature before the social systems are ready to adapt to the changes. While some will fear a loss of autonomy, the saving of more than 30,000 lives per year may be worth ceding control to computer.

Source: NPR, "Hitting The Road Without A Driver," Brian Naylor, August 19, 2013

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