On Safety

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Replacing long-haul truckers with long-haul robots?

August 14, 2014

Transportation incidents are a leading cause of workplace-related deaths. Could robots be the answer?

In a new video from online educator CGP Grey, the history and future of technology’s impact on our society is explored, particularly the unsolved dilemmas caused by a growing use of “mechanical muscles.”

After I got over the initial fear of losing my job to robots, I started wondering about Grey’s segment on automobiles. Self-driving vehicles don’t simply exist in some distant, Jetsonian future – they exist right now.

A handful of states have passed laws allowing autonomous vehicles on their roadways. Google is one of the more visible producers of self-driving cars, and they’ve been at this project for a while. The company’s self-driving vehicles have been virtually crash-free, with the vast majority of the few crashes that have occurred being the result of human error.

If that trend keeps up, robot-driven cars could have a startling positive impact on our country’s roadways. More than 40 percent of the 4,628 workplace deaths in 2012 were transportation-related, and more than 30,000 people each year are killed on U.S. highways.

Robot-driven cars certainly pose unanswered questions, such as who would be liable for a crash. But could they be a solution, if not the solution, behind human-caused transportation deaths and injuries? Grey seems to allude as much in the video.

“They don’t need to be perfect. They just need to be better than us,” he says of robot-driven vehicles. “Given that self-driving cars don’t blink, don’t text while driving, don’t get sleepy or stupid, it’s easier to see them being better than humans because they already are.”

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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