The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How self-driving cars would benefit Americans more than world peace

Hypothetically, let’s say you could go back in time to 1900 and do one thing to save millions of lives. What would you do? Constrained to one wish, you might ask for world peace. It seems like an obvious and easy choice. But during the four deadliest wars the United States fought in the 20th century, 39 percent more Americans were dying in motor vehicles.

The lesson here isn’t that U.S. roadways are less safe than fighting in a war. Far more Americans were on roads than on battlefields. We don’t need to give out medals of honor for driving on your local interstate. Driving to a movie theater helps just you; fighting in a war benefits your country.

But what’s striking from the graph above is how we discount the deaths of motor vehicle accidents. If we value all American lives, shouldn’t we be obsessed with making self-driving cars a reality? While war is hell, driving sure isn’t heaven.

Related: Peak fender-bender: Technology can prevent car crashes, if consumers will buy in

U.S. motor vehicle deaths U.S. war deaths
1917-1918 (WWI) 20,020 116,516
1941-1945 (WWII) 137,826 405,399
1950-1953 (Korean) 140,773 36,516
1965-1975 (Vietnam) 558,506 58,220
Total 857,125 616,651