“If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.” That's the opening line to the short story that inspired the classic movie "National Lampoon's Vacation," which premiered in theaters 35 years ago this summer. The Griswolds' zany cross-country odyssey spoofed the mythos surrounding the great American road trip, reassuring parents through their own travel disasters and disappointments.

Things are about to get better.

Road trips are as popular as ever, with AAA estimating that nearly 47 million Americans roamed more than 50 miles by car over the Fourth of July for example. They're also dangerous: Memorial Day weekend is four times more deadly than usual for drivers. Along with Labor Day, these three holidays account for around 925 roadway fatalitiesevery year.

Self-driving cars will make us safer

A brighter future for road trips is on the horizon. Elon Musk recently announced that full self-driving vehicle capability will be available in the August update of Tesla's AutoPilot software. Waymo has ordered 62,000 minivans that will allow it to expand autonomous taxi service to the general public starting in Phoenix later this year.

More than just a convenience that frees humans from the monotony of a long drive, autonomous vehicles will vastly improve road safety. A 2016 study by Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute found that even in early testing, Google's Self-Driving Car Project which eventually became Waymo had crash rates 24 percent lower than human drivers. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that 94 percent of vehicle crashes are caused by driver mistakes, and McKinsey & Company found that that autonomous driving technology could reduce crashes by as much as 90 percent.

The days of a road-weary Clark Griswold asleep at the wheel, or wrecked and stranded on an unfinished desert road, may soon be in the rearview mirror. And that's good, because living it in reality isn't funny.

The potential savings in terms of lives and money from these safety improvements can't be overstated. Over 1.25 million people are killed on roads worldwide each year. 4.57 million Americans required medical attention due to car crashes in 2017. The National Safety Council estimates that traffic accident injuries, repairs, and lost work time cost us $413.8 billion 2 percent of the entire U.S. economy.

 

We can’t get in the way of their progress

To get more American families home safely from road trips or grocery trips we need to protect "permissionless innovation." This is the idea that experimentation with new technologies and business models should be permitted by default. Unless a clear case can be made that unrestrained testing presents a serious danger to safety, new innovation on tech like driverless cars should continue until we can reap the benefits.

Permissionless innovation improves our lives in completely unforeseen ways. Who would have predicted that the Wright brothers bicycle entrepreneurs from small-town Dayton, Ohio would revolutionize the way we travel to far off places? Today Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and other innovators are the torchbearers of this idea, earnestly pursuing their enterprise without waiting for every skeptic's blessing.

Regulations that disallow or inhibit exploration inevitably, if unintentionally, forestall innovation and keep us in the ugly, green Family Truckster rather than upgrading to a flashy Tesla Model 3. The United Kingdom's 19th century red flag laws which protected the profits of railroad barons from "dangerous" new automobiles stifled Britain's fledgling auto industry for 30 years, giving foreign competitors a head start.

Today, autonomous vehicle innovators need the space to develop into technology that will benefit everyone in the future. Beyond safety, they'll enable parents to start their vacations sooner by turning travel time into quality time.

About two-thirds of parents said dealing with traffic causes them the most stress on vacation (just ask Clark Griswold how he feels about traffic circles). Autonomous vehicles may not completely quiet the cries of "Are we there yet!?" from the back seat, but version 2.0 of the summer road trip will allow safer vacations that start as soon as you leave home.

 

Source: USA Today

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