The technology of autonomous cars is expected to reduce crashes caused by drunk or distracted driving, as well as provide a plethora of additional benefits. But the latest safety technology will actually allow autonomous vehicles to react to medical emergencies.
Both Toyota and Ford are looking into ways to combine health sensors with autonomous driving technology. This would allow for vehicles to be able to pull off the road and call for help if they establish a passenger is experiencing a medical emergency.
Heart rate and blood glucose levels can be effectively monitored, as heart attacks and diabetic events are related to a relatively high number of vehicle accidents.
Typically, people think of the most common causes of car accidents to be things like drunk driving or speeding. In fact, of all fatal car accidents, 32% are caused by drunk driving, 31% by speeding, 16% from distraction, and 11% are caused by weather. However, a 2009 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study showed that 20% of crashes were caused by diabetic events and an additional 11% were caused by heart attacks.
According to Dr. Nitish Badhwar, professor of clinical medicine and director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Training Program at the University of California, San Francisco, heart-related medical issues are especially dangerous behind the wheel because the sufferer can lose consciousness. Additionally, people who are having heart attacks may not always be aware of it. Because of this, a system that can detect dangerous heart rates would be immensely beneficial.
The American Diabetes Association estimates that over 30 million adults in America have diabetes. While most of them can safely operate vehicles, diabetics have been found 12% to 19% more likely to get in a car accident. Medical monitoring systems are expected to make driving safer for those who suffer medical conditions, as well as those who share the roads with them.
Additional groups who may benefit from autonomous driving technology include elderly drivers as well as those with disabilities. Autonomous technology, as well as medical monitoring, is appealing to those who have been constrained to public transportation or other modes of transportation due to their disability.
The goal of autonomous developers is to find a balance between keeping the passengers fully informed of the driving situation while also keeping the experience simple.
While autonomous technology is still in the works, a recent report from the RAND corporation cautions against delaying the introduction of autonomous vehicles. The report warns of the cost of waiting to introduce hugely safer cars that may take many more years to develop. Researchers say that the safety record would improve significantly by introducing even slightly safer driverless cars.
With more than 30,000 fatal car crashes in the U.S. in 2014, human error is continued to be seen as the biggest driver risk on the road.
The integration of driverless technology is expected to save lives, but also do much more. Additional benefits could include lower auto insurance rates, health insurance rates, changes to the real estate market, and could change the lives of those who are limited or unable to currently drive.