Sunday, March 4, 2018

Perishing by the sword.

When cars were more like land yachts, circa 1980, America recorded 51,000 highway deaths. By 2015, that number had plummeted to 35,000, a whopping 31% reduction. How did America make it happen? In a word: safety. Over the years, we bought and drove many more vehicles, while they became smarter and fewer people died.

Regulators, law enforcement and technology companies combined to help make vehicles safer and encourage drivers to behave better.

No car company will refer to a collision as an accident. I wrote auto safety stuff for years and the engineers and lawyers hammered the word "crash" into my head. You see, well over 90% of car collisions are due to human error. They're not accidents. They're due to people making mistakes like driving to fast, braking too late, drinking, sleeping or texting behind the wheel. Only a fraction of crashes are caused by mechanical problems or road failure. If you've been driving during a wreck, you know it was either you or the other guy who failed to grasp the situation and exceeded the laws of physics under the circumstances.

So now cars come equipped with their own set of human-like senses and instincts, such as radar and infrared systems that read obstacles in the road in front and behind drivers. There are sensors that detect wheel speed and the relationship between the driver's intended steering direction and the actual path of the vehicle. And with this knowledge, the intelligent automobile or smart car can warn the driver of a hazard or even instantaneously and seamlessly intervene, applying brakes, pumping them more rapidly than any human can, even decelerating an engine without you or I doing a thing.

These instinctive technologies are some of the magic that is making it possible to imagine and create self-driving cars. So safety technologies not only save lives, they are helping reinvent the way we think about traveling. Technology companies imagined a car that could not crash, and driverless vehicles could make that dream come true, or pretty close. Remember, only a tiny percentage of vehicles incidents occur due to vehicle failures.

When we added the "Click-It-Or-Ticket" campaign enforcing mandatory seatbelt use, plus cops and judges leaning hard on DUIs, we made progress. And it's no longer a badge of honor to drive drunk and make it home from the party. "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" -- right? We changed the way we think about driver responsibility. We took ownership of our common safety.

Now I had that background and insight when I recently read a debate on Facebook about America's epidemic of gun violence. One friend said something like: "Cars kill more people than guns do, we don't outlaw them!" What followed was an avalanche of arguments but not so many facts.

Here are a few. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, we average about 13, 000 gun deaths a year in the U.S. while more than 26,000 people are injured by bullets. What if we took the approach that we did with cars and made guns safer and smarter while encouraging a change of owner behavior? As a first step, what if we began working on reducing unintended injury and death?

Consider this: about 5,700 kids a year suffer accidental gunshot wounds and 1,300 die. These are preventable. It's very hard to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill, but what about children? What if guns were smart enough to determine a child was holding the weapon and not its owner? What if a gun owner could use a remote control to disable a weapon he discovers is in the hands of a child? Anti-theft systems make that possible with cars today.

Americans own over 300 million guns, that's about one weapon for every man, woman and child in our country. Hundreds of thousands of them are stolen each year and used in crimes. Yet only 11 states and Washington D.C. require owners to report missing or stolen weapons. Why only 11? What if we leveraged the technology that allows us to pinpoint the location of your stolen car to find a stolen gun? What if every state required reporting for every stolen or missing weapon?

While under physical attack, Jesus told his apostle, Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

Divine advice. Every weapon requires an owner who loves life and a sheath for safety. Without that, we die and lose our minds and souls.

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