When you roll the clock back a hundred years and wonder, "What was the scariest part of how people lived?" what comes to mind?

No, it's not the lack of a smartphone! 

Instead, consider that in 1918 the Spanish flu killed 5 percent of the world's population and infected nearly 25 percent. It was the single deadliest pandemic in recorded history. 

So, given that, I might suggest that vaccines and other benefits of modern medicine would rank pretty high for most of us. 

However, in 1918, you would have likely just accepted that risk as part of life. After all, there was nothing you could do about the flu, other than to completely isolate yourself from every other human being. 

To be part of society meant engaging in what were inherently very risky activities such as work, school, shopping, taking care of family, and socializing. 

It was just the way the world worked.

And yet today we look back on those early 20th-century inhabitants with pity at the high cost they had to pay without the benefit of today's pharmaceuticals and medical technology.

Now, roll the clock forward 100 years. What will the inhabitants of 2118 say is the scariest part of the life we now lead? "You could easily make the claim that vehicles are the leading cause of death for those who own or interact with an automobile."

Of all the activities we are involved in, driving and sharing our world with vehicles is the single riskiest thing most of us do on an ongoing basis. And today, August 2nd, is the deadliest day of the year for vehicular incidents. In the U.S. alone, more than 500 people will be killed before the day is over. That's about five times higher than the mathematical average based on 38,000 deaths yearly.  

Vehicles account for 1.3 million deaths each year globally, placing them as the 10th leading cause of death and the only non-disease-related cause of death in the top 10. Total injured as the result of vehicle incidents tops 50 million.

Here's the shocker. In my recent book Revealing the Invisible, I point out that if you adjust for the fact that there are only one billion vehicles globally, as opposed to the fact that all seven billion people risk acquiring any of the nine diseases' risk factors, you could easily make the claim that vehicles are the leading cause of death for those who own or interact with an automobile. 

Still, none of us will think twice about taking that risk; even today, when the odds are five times greater than average that we will be part of that statistic. 

This is carnage on a mass scale. To put it into perspective, in just two years the number of deaths due to vehicle accidents is greater than the number of U.S. deaths during the entire Vietnam conflict and war. 

I could end the column there, but if you've followed any of my writing you probably know where I'm heading with this. 

We are within just a few decades of seeing the end of the human-driven-vehicle era. Autonomous vehicles will reduce traffic fatalities by 95 percent--the rate of accidents attributable to human error. (To get details, see a transportation research report recently published by my company and India-based Ideafarms.) That means saving more than one million lives yearly.

If you're suspect of this because of some of the recent news regarding incidents with driverless cars, then think about the fact that the greatest impact of autonomous vehicles will be saving the lives of your own children and grandchildren while allowing you to maintain your own freedom, independence, and safety as you get older. 

There's no doubt that autonomous vehicles will gather much more attention for each accident they are involved in than human-driven vehicles. But it's crucial to keep in mind where the bar is currently set. 

Today, more than 500 people will pay the steepest of all prices to be part of the civilized world. Some will be traveling on holiday. Some will be families. Some will be children. Some will be grandparents or perhaps new parents. Not a single one deserves to be part of a statistic that we've simply taken for granted as part of the way the world works.

Published on: Aug 2, 2018