Driverless cars — a public health benefit?

     An autonomous car controlled by a Nvidia DRIVE PX 2 AI car computing platform drives along a course during CES International, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP Photo)

    An autonomous car controlled by a Nvidia DRIVE PX 2 AI car computing platform drives along a course during CES International, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP Photo)

    When we think about public health epidemics, smoking, environmental pollution and even gun violence come to mind. But what about driverless cars?

    A new piece published in the American Journal of Public Health byJanet Fleetwood, a professor of Community Health and Prevention in the School of Public Health at Drexel University, says debates about driverless cars shouldn’t just be left to transit experts. She’s says they’re a public health issue.

    “Autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90% by eliminating the accidents caused by human error,” Fleetwood said in an interview. “That could save 29,000 lives per year in the United States alone and potentially 10 million lives globally per decade.”

    Fleetwood says public health experts should be talking to policy makers and auto makers to ensure that rational and ethically-justifiable regulations are developed across the states.

    “As public health experts, we should be keeping pace with the evolving technology and lead and participate actively in the discussions that are happening now, in engaging our communities broadly and in advocating for rational and consistent regulations pertaining to autonomous vehicles,” Fleetwood said.

    Uber recently suspended its self-driving car programs in Arizona and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after a crash involving one of its vehicles. There were no serious injuries in the incident in Tempe, Arizona. Police said the self-driving Uber SUV was obeying the law and cited the human driver of the other car for a moving violation.

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