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December 06, 2006

Traffic accidents

Freeman Dyson talks about world war 2 and includes some information about traffic accidents.

His point about traffic accidents (which kill 1.2 million people per year worldwide and about 44,000 per year in the USA) :
Smeed (Dysons boss in WW2) also had a fatalistic view of traffic accidents. He collected statistics on traffic deaths from many countries, all the way back to the invention of the automobile. He found that under an enormous range of conditions, the number of deaths in a country per year is given by a simple formula: number of deaths equals .0003 times the two-thirds power of the number of people times the one-third power of the number of cars. This formula is known as Smeed's Law. He published it in 1949, and it is still valid 57 years later. It is, of course, not exact, but it holds within a factor of two for almost all countries at almost all times. It is remarkable that the number of deaths does not depend strongly on the size of the country, the quality of the roads, the rules and regulations governing traffic, or the safety equipment installed in cars. Smeed interpreted his law as a law of human nature. The number of deaths is determined mainly by psychological factors that are independent of material circumstances. People will drive recklessly until the number of deaths reaches the maximum they can tolerate. When the number exceeds that limit, they drive more carefully. Smeed's Law merely defines the number of deaths that we find psychologically tolerable.

If this is true then more regulations and technology need to be introduced to force safe or safer driving behavior. The best would be safe completely automated driving systems.

Honda is looking to introduce wing mirror cameras and to network them into a comprehensive traffic surveillance system This could be used as part of a system to enforce safe driving.

Fuel efficient driving behaviors could also be enforced in autodriving systems.

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