The modern automobile can be traced back more than 100 years to 1886, when Karl Benz created the Benz slightly more than 10 mph.
It’s easy to chuckle at that today, when our cars are made from a variety of composite materials that were likely developed by aerospace engineers and can easily reach speeds in excess of 100 mph. But the primary goal of the automobile hasn’t changed: to move us from point A to B. A second goal is to provide mobility in a way that does not harm people and will not result in property damage.
Simply stated, we want to drive safe.
Human-machine interface researchers have long recognized that mobility and safety can only be achieved through a partnership between driver and vehicle. The partnership can be thought of as a dance in which each partner must complete at least some tasks—you tap the brakes when you see a pedestrian and the car slows down.
Traditionally, achieving these goals of safety and mobility has largely been your responsibility as a driver. You make sure that you are well-rested and sober, you check the fuel level so you don’t run out of gas, and make sure that the car is operational so it doesn’t break down.
While driving, you provide all the vehicle control inputs: You decide the steering wheel, accelerator pedal , and brake pedal positions. And of course you have to stay constantly aware of the vehicle’s operation and driving situation, and coordinate your responses accordingly. Most drivers are great dance partners because they constantly monitor and attend to what’s going on.
The automobile, on the other hand, has long been a terrible dance partner. Historically, the car hasn’t been able to monitor itself (besides, say, offering an infuriatingly vague “check engine” light), the driver, or the environment—and it certainly hasn’t been able to use this information in a partnership with you to achieve greater mobility and safety. It’s like your little cousin standing on your feet while you boogie: You’re the one doing all the work, but it still looks like a dance.
Regardless of the awkward imbalance, we nevertheless manage to make this partnership work. The Federal Highways Administration estimated that Americans alone drove a staggering 3.1 trillion miles in 2015, which, by any standards, suggests a highly mobile society.
But what about the other goal: How safe were we? Well, that depends on your perspective. As a researcher in the field of transportation safety, I would say that we sacrificed safety for mobility. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015 in the U.S. approximately 35,000 people died and more than 2.4 million people were injured in automobile crashes.
Read more of the original article at Slate.com.