driverless cars and the end of death

In my course in introductory sociology, I have a module on health. One lecture describes the leading causes death, across age groups and across time periods. In modern times, one of the leading causes of death is “unintentional injury.” What does that mean? Roughly speaking, the three major categories of unintentional injury death are, in order, falling, auto accidents, and accidental poisoning.

The interesting thing is that these are all types of death that relate to economic development: cars, chemical, tall buildings, stairs and so forth. The other side is that economic development can also help us out. For example, in about one generation, driverless cars will be widespread. The implication is that drunk driving will be eliminated over night and accidents relating to drifting driver attention will disappear overnight. Truck accidents should also disappear. My hypothesis is that computer driven cars will probably be better than most people when they drive in the rain or snow. They might even automatically shut down if conditions are bad enough.

Bottom line: Economic development has unintended consequences. Sometimes they are bad, such as auto related deaths. But development can introduce solutions. The driverless car will be one such example.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 6, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, mortality, technology

6 Responses

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  1. Without disagreeing at all with your post, Fabio, I think that we need to be careful with the rhetoric that economic development brings solutions to the ills that it causes. That’s what underpins the ecological modernization approach, and although, again, it is not without supporting evidence, it can easily be construed as meaning that we don’t need to try to address the problems that we are creating because the logic of economic development will take care of them in due time. A lot of suffering is bound to happen while we wait.

    Liked by 1 person

    Oriol Mirosa

    April 6, 2015 at 12:18 am

  2. Fair point. It helps to remember that “economic development” is short hand for “people creating things of value.” It doesn’t mean that nothing is happening – and I hope people don’t think that.



    April 6, 2015 at 1:56 am

  3. But will insurance companies allow this level of drastic reduction in both incidence and liability? Will the ubiquity of car insurance ads go the way of long distance telephone ads? ( a reasonable comparison as both insurance and telecommunications have some regulation components )



    April 6, 2015 at 4:17 pm

  4. LKT: Improvements in transportation will radically change a number of industries. If the batteries in electric cars improve and they become common, it will wreck the auto industry. They make a lot of money on repairs and spare parts, and electric cars have very little maintenance. Driverless cars will almost certainly affect insurance. If auto accidents plummet, then, boom, premiums will drop like a rock. Only regulation will save them (making people buy auto).



    April 6, 2015 at 4:43 pm

  5. Is it really accurate to suggest that economic development (which I take to mean industrialization) is responsible for high rates of accidental death? I mean, sure, deaths specifically related to cars and chemical poisoning couldn’t happen without development, but I would imagine that rates of accidental death were higher in pre-industrial times (falling off horses, farming accidents, hunting accidents, etc).



    April 6, 2015 at 7:48 pm

  6. JD: Accidental death is certainly lower overall, but forms of death specific to industrialization remain.



    April 6, 2015 at 8:18 pm

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