Ford’s focus on creating cars that either help drivers drive or automatically drive themselves is very much contagious. From its automated driving research vehicles, established plans for the future of mobility, and various driver-assist technologies (such as those found on the Edge Concept) the automaker is already including in its cars today, Ford has recently jumped on the automated driving bandwagon like a groupie hops on a rock band tour bus. But why? Why is The Blue Oval seemingly so intent on replacing humans with computers behind the wheel? The answer involves safety.
Decades ago, people died from preventable mechanical failures or engineering lapses in cars. A poorly-designed fuel tank and underlying components on a certain subcompact Ford model from the 1970s (ok, it was the Pinto) seemed to be a particular threat to the well-being of drivers. But today, mechanical problems don’t cause many deaths.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during the past 50 years, the number of people killed by cars has fallen by about 80 percent relative to the number of miles driven. Much of this obviously-favorable decrease is due to improvements in automotive technology such as seat belts and airbags, as well as better and more sturdy vehicles that can take more than their antique counterparts. But the drop in fatalities is also the result of tighter regulations on drivers (such as buckling up and drunk driving) along with stricter enforcement of penalties on automakers that sell defective vehicles, which is partly the reason for Ford’s recent recall binge. Fortunately, these improvements have come to cumulatively save the lives of tens of thousands of people each year. Even so, over 33,000 were still killed by cars in 2012, according to the NHTSA. To put that in perspective, that is triple the number of firearm homicides.
And according to the World Health Organization, many more people in the United States are killed by cars than in most other developed countries, since Americans drive so much more. Coincidentally, auto accidents are also part of the reason U.S. life expectancy is low relative to the national income. But as regulations, the enforcement of laws, and the overall safety of vehicles have improved, the one variable that hasn’t is the driver. More specifically, driver error.
We believe that this is the primary reason behind Ford’s quest to replace (or at least help) humans with computers when it comes to driving, as doing so bodes well for automotive safety and human life.
Theoretically, replacing the driver with technology that is (also theoretically) much more reliable should greatly reduce automotive accidents and fatalities. Of course, that all depends on how well the automated or autonomous vehicle tech works… but if it works right, its potential to avoid accidents and save lives is significant. And that’s not to mention some of the other secondary benefits of automated/autonomous vehicles, including the ability to achieve better fuel economy and more efficient transportation. If that is, indeed, the motivation behind’s Ford’s drive to automate the driving experience, then it’s one worth pursuing. Although driving enthusiasts might have a slightly different opinion.