Yesterday NTSB presented a brilliant and innovative idea to reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities – states should raise their measure of drunk (Blood Alcohol Content) from .08 to .05. The government reaches in the closet for a solution only to pull out...a bigger stick.
The same can be said about texting and driving. The cell phone isn’t regulated because it is a danger; it’s regulated because it’s the only component of distracted driving that government can regulate. Again, with the stick.
Cookies and crashes
As a child I had a thing for chocolate chip cookies. My mom kept a jar of cookies on the kitchen counter. I would pull the small step stool from the pantry, slide it over to the counter, climb up and fill myself with cookies.
My mom caught me one day. She was furious. She lit me up with a switch that I had to cut.
A week later I found myself back in the kitchen wanting something sweet. The step stool was already out. This was too easy. I slide the stool over, climbed up and could see the cookie jar. I could almost taste the crunchy sugary…what?! There was one cookie in the jar with a note on it that said “One. That’s all you can have today. ”
You see, I knew what the punishment was for sneaking into that cookie jar. I did it anyways. My rationale - she’ll never catch me twice. My mom on the other hand knew I would always want more cookies. Rather than continue to hit me with a stick, she simply outsmarted me.
This is where we are in the world of automotive regulation. Drinking, eating, texting, daydreaming, talking to passengers – these are all things we are going to do regardless of how big government’s stick.
NTSB’s effort to lower the BAC to .05 is a perfect example of this. But according to Census data in 2009 more than 9% of alcohol fatalities involved drivers who were under 21. These are people who broke the law twice (underage drinking + driving drunk).
Again, the stick isn't working.
Is the Google car a distraction from the solution?
It seems the effort, time and money being spent on safety campaigns and on cars that drive themselves is taking the spotlight away from a near team solution – active crash avoidance systems, in particular passive systems, such as autonomous braking.
Google's driverless car is a neat idea and a very positive DARPA-like way of thinking about transportation, but it is filled with challenges and frankly does nothing to save lives today.
Passive safety systems on the other hand give you all the life-saving benefits of the driverless car, today.
While texting, boozing and whatever new dangerous thing society decides to do next while driving will all continue to be illegal, chase by states big sticks - I'll find relief knowing the cars of near-tomorrow cannot collide with me while being piloted by a dumb careless humans.
Rather than a stick, why not a carrot?
But what if, what if, government stopped looking at how to manipulate human behavior through a series of sticks and bigger sticks and asked a more frank question: how do we idiot proof cars for an America that sucks at driving?
One option would be tie in CAFE credits for crash avoidance technology. If the intent of CAFE is to save lives through reduced emissions, then it would only make sense to provide a credit for technology that does just that, save lives.
Another option would be to take all the money spent on vehicle safety campaigns and use it to issue Active Safety Grants to consumers.
These grants would be used to offset the additional cost of any crash avoidance safety systems.
The third solution, offer a tax credit. Buyers, who purchase a car with certain crash avoidance safetys, would be able to deduct the added cost of those systems.
The final option is automakers eat the cost and market the hell out of it to consumers.
Look forward to your comments. Sort of.