The Truth About Guns, Self-Driving Cars And Saving Lives

Let's stick an icepick of truth in the face of hypocrisy.

Even in tragedy, people are funny. I don’t mean haha funny. I’m talking about cognitive dissonance that makes me want to jaywalk on the Autobahn during rush hour, if only my sacrifice would get anyone to recognize the common ground we all share—or at least claim to. That’s the problem, of course. Everyone likes to claim the moral high ground, but seldom want to stand on it.

Which brings us to the hypocrisy around guns, self-driving cars and saving lives.

Let’s start with first principles. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that any death that isn’t by natural causes is a bad thing. Ergo, anything that saves lives is a good thing.

This makes the gun control debate fascinating, because both sides claim to be operating from that same first principle. The NRA saves lives with more guns. Their opponents, by restricting them. Every year the debate rages, people die. In 2017, that number was 15,592, not including suicides.

That something must be done about guns is obvious, but the Second Amendment is a big, prickly cactus sliding further down America’s throat with every gun sold. If it’s going to be extracted, it’s going to take a lot of time, which means years of pain.

That something can be done about saving lives in general is also obvious, and it has nothing to do with guns. If your first principle is to save lives, then that needs to be a general principle you stand on at all times. If not, you’re a partisan hack, or ignorant, or both. There are no optics to morality. Given the opportunity to act, you must do so when and where confronted with the choice.

If we want to save lives, we need to talk about driving, which killed over 40,000 Americans last year—more than twice the numbers killed by guns.

The Parkland School Massacre killed 17 people. 109 were killed by in/by cars that same day.

That’s 5 Parkland massacres every day.

Here an icepick of truth for you:

Since 1968, 1,530,000 Americans have been killed by guns.

Since 1968, 2,130,000 Americans have been killed by/in cars.

There is no Second Amendment protecting the right to drive a car. Driving is a privilege, not a right. There is nothing preventing us from personally acting on or regulating away the overwhelming majority of road fatalities away, today.

Where are the politicians and regulators fighting to improve road safety in a serious way? They don’t exist. What is the NRA’s position on improving road safety? Nonexistent. What about the gun control camp? Nada.

What a bunch of hypocrites. You need a poncho to hide from the Niagara Falls of blood, sweat and tears shed around the gun debate, but Skip Barber Racing School still had to file for bankruptcy.

Skip Barber’s one-day “Teen Safety And Survival” school costs $995. 

Don’t tell me it’s too expensive. I’ve been to enough funerals. The average casket costs $2000. Anyone standing by an open grave with a sign that said Time Machine could collect $995 before the first dirt hit the wood.

Self-Driving cars are not the answer

“But wait, Alex, aren’t self-driving cars right around the corner?”

Newsflash: they’re not. A few might be, in the next five years in a few places, but if you want to cut that 40,000 fatality figure by 99%, you’ve got to replace 100% of the 270M cars on the road in America today. Zero self-driving cars were sold last year. Zero will be sold this year. But 6.3 million human-driven passenger cars were sold in 2017, and their average lifespan is 11 years. Even if 100% of new cars were self-driving, it would take 24 years to replace every human-driven car on the road.

That’s a very optimistic timeline, because it assumes Level 5 cars—those go anywhere/anytime Wall-E pods absent steering wheels—show up in the near term. Not going to happen. The timeline to ubiquity? Somewhere between 50 years…and never.

Between now and that self-driving utopia, we have a long slog during which we can choose our battles. If saving lives is your first principle, then the moral path is the shortest one. That path is a total assault on road safety, today and every day, until driving is outlawed or technology saves it.

Instead we get a self-driving lobby as craven as the NRA, almost exclusively focused on all-or-nothing, blue sky solutions, promising a safer tomorrow while taking baby steps today. Legacy automakers talk a big game, but Tesla’s Autopilot has owned the semi-autonomous market space since late 2015. It took two more years for GM’s superior SuperCruise to show up on a single Cadillac model, and yet it went unmentioned in GM’s most recent investor report.

Billions continue to fertilize a self-driving tree that has barely sprouted, when for a fraction of the cost countless lives could be saved tomorrow. Maybe if Google donated even a fraction of their Waymo investment to launch a drivers’s ed charity, I’d have more respect for them. “Saving lives” is the narrative of self-driving, but profit is the motive. Waymo isn’t a charity, nor are any of the dozens of startups who send me plans every week.

How to save lives today

No one cares about your safety more than you do, but that “personal responsibility” people talk about is meaningless unless you educate yourself as to what’s at stake. In between buying guns or protesting their availability, Googling “grisly car accident victims” will put you in the right mindset.

Here’s a starter list for how to reduce the #1 killer in America that isn’t a disease.

Wear your seatbelt, even in the backseat. If I have to explain it, you shouldn’t be in a car, let alone driving one. If seat belts didn’t work, race car drivers wouldn’t use them. If your friends won’t wear them in the back, turn off the engine, sit, and wait.

Then let’s mandate seatbelt interlocks. There’s only one reason to oppose this. You don’t want to save lives. Also, you don’t love your children.

If you’re on a two-wheeler—even if it’s a bicycle—wear a helmet. I don’t care if you hurt yourself. I do care about the first responders diverted from helping more serious accidents, and victims of violent crime.

Report unsafe driving. Call 911. If you’re in a taxi or Uber driving like a jerk, get out and report them. Ride-hailing apps make this really easy. If the driver doesn’t kill you, he or she may kill someone else.

Does your friend like to show off his driving skill and want you to come along? Unless it’s on a racetrack and he’s got a spare helmet—and even if he does—skip the ride. A real driver will ask you to watch their lap from the pits, then brag about their lap time. Everyone else is an amateur.

Let’s suppose fully automatic weapons were legal nationwide. You wouldn’t buy your kid an M249 with a 200 round ammo box as a first gun, would you? @Parents: unless you’ve invested real money in karting and/or your kid has already been scouted, don’t buy them an M, AMG, S, V, F, or R, or basically anything with an extra letter. Make them earn it. I don’t mean through skill, or even grades. Make them pay for it. A good work ethic often makes for good respect-for-life ethics.

Find and support politicians seeking to raise driving standards. The next generation of potential political candidates are marching right now for gun control. Where is the candidate fighting for road safety? Find them, or run for office yourself.

Buy winter tires. You don’t have space to store a second set of tires? Boo hoo. Do you like having two arms and two legs? Make it work. All-seasons don’t work in snow, but they have a magical ability to transport you to a cemetery. How many SUV’s and crossovers have you seen stranded in the winter? Every single one of them is driven by someone who literally does not care about their own safety, or that of those around them. Don’t ride with them, even if it means missing out on the party. You can’t party if you’re dead.

Don’t drink and drive, and don’t ride with people who do. De-friend people who do. I’ve even de-friended people who joke about doing it.

But wait, we already have breathalyzer interlocks for idiots who need them. I had a drinking problem years ago. Thank god I didn’t drive. Why take the chance? Let’s install breathalyzer interlocks on all vehicles. Safety is a just a law away, and new technologies may allow us to do away with the breathalyzer component.

Read “We Need An NRA For Human Driving.” I’m not suggesting we support human driving privileges at the expense of safety. I’m suggesting that, in the absence of constitutional protections for driving, a lobbying group by and for enthusiasts must deploy a common sense approach to maximizing safety. Licensing standards must be raised. Retesting must be mandatory. We need more lifetime driving bans. We need zero tolerance for unsafe driving.

Join the Human Driving Association. It’s nothing more than a mailing list…for now. But sometime soon, once the self-driving lobby generates enough momentum to restrict human driving privileges, we will be funneled into vehicles whose safety is determined by code. I’m all for self-driving technology that’s safer than humans, but until it’s proven—and no standards currently exist—the onus is on us, which brings us to…

Drivers education, which is a disgrace. Just ask Sully. The solution? Sign up for professional driving school. The most expensive half day course is cheaper than a funeral. It’s also a lot cheaper than the upgrade wheels, bodykits, wings and performance packages the instagram kids love so much. Worshipping performance over drivers’ skill in using it is the difference between children and adults.

We are not what we buy. We are what we do, when it counts.

We need to reduce gun deaths, but talking about gun solutions while doing nothing about driving — which kills more than twice as many people as guns — is morally bankrupt. You don’t need to wait to help save lives. Help chip away at our road safety problem today. I hate cliches, but this one is true: when it comes to road safety, you’re either part of the solution, or part of the problem, because there will be 5 Parkland Massacres on American roads today and every day until something is done.

You are pro-death or anti-death.

Pick your side.

Alex Roy—angel investor, Editor-at-Large for The Drive, host of The Autonocast, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports, author of The Driverhas set numerous endurance driving records, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.