Many people are understandingly reluctant to turn over control of their vehicle to an automated system. After all, machines do break down. But are our fears justified? To find out, we took a look at the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT HS 811 059, dated July 2008). In 5,096 of the 5,471 crashes studied, the “Critical Reason for Critical Pre-Crash Event” was “driver error”. In other words, more than 93% of the crashes were attributed to driver error. Only 130 of the crashes, or about 2%, were attributed to vehicle failure. And it is likely that most, if not all, of those failures were due to inadequate or improper maintenance. In an Automated Transit Network (ATN), system-wide maintenance can be performed on a regular schedule, keeping in-service failures to a minimum. ATN vehicles, known as pods, are actually simpler than cars – so there’s just less to go wrong. And guideway-based transit is inherently safer than free-roaming road vehicles. For these and other reasons we feel confident in predicting that Automated Transit Networks will be at least ten times safer than cars.
Public concerns about automation can be traced back to the 19th century when a steam engine could continue mindlessly chugging away long after things had gone terribly wrong. But modern automation systems have sensors and computers that continuously monitor performance, and can take corrective action faster than a human can. No one is claiming that technical malfunctions will ever be completely eliminated, but by embracing Automated Transit, we can easily prevent 9 out of 10 crashes, while simultaneously upgrading the quality of life in our cities. And all this can be done today. What are we waiting for?