For the first time in almost a decade, 40,000 people were killed on US roads over the course of the past 12 months, and if these numbers continue to rise at the same rate, then autonomous vehicles can't come quickly enough.
From Audi to Volkswagen, every car company currently endeavoring to bring autonomous vehicles to market is highlighting the technology's ability to eradicate road accidents as its biggest selling point.
"Autonomous driving represents a leap forward in car safety," said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars. "The sooner AD cars are on the roads, the sooner lives will start being saved."
During this week's World Government Summit in Dubai, Tesla founder Elon Musk again said that the arrival of self-driving cars will be "very disruptive and very quick." Uber CEO Travis Kalanick went as far as to claim autonomous vehicles will be a reality within five years, and with their arrival, no more traffic jams and eventually, "There will be no more traffic accidents," he said.
But, if the latest data from the National Safety Council in the US is the shape of things to come, autonomous cars can't go into production quickly enough. Even though modern vehicles are getting safer with each model year that passes, an estimated 40,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2016 -- up 6% on 2015 and an alarming 14% on 2014. The jump comes after decades of constant improvements.
The last time so many people were killed on the road in a single year was 2007.
As to what is causing this spike in fatal accidents, the National Safety Council is convinced it's driver complacency -- whether it's speeding, using a smartphone while driving, or driving under the influence.
In a new survey of 2,001 US drivers published on Thursday, 47% of respondents admitted to testing or operating a phone via voice commands, and while 83% said the state of driving is a current safety concern, 64% said that they were comfortable speeding and just 26% said that driverless or automated cars posed no overall traffic safety risk in their opinion.
"Our complacency is killing us. Americans believe there is nothing we can do to stop crashes from happening, but that isn't true," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. "The U.S. lags the rest of the developed world in addressing highway fatalities. We know what needs to be done; we just haven't done it."