Free will is a trait that is often pointed to as fundamentally distinguishing humans from other species.
As far as safety regulators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are concerned, people could be doing a lot better job exercising that characteristic when engaging in behind-the-wheel behaviors out on state and national roadways.
Because motorists, passengers and pedestrians are dying from "the human choices" made by drivers, and in numbers that are progressively spiking from previous years.
That spells a trend, states the NHTSA, and it is starkly worrisome.
Here's an agency-compiled statistic: Fatalities from car accidents that occurred during 2016 were up 5.6% from the prior year. And the 2015 death toll marked a similar jump from the year before that.
In absolute numbers, that equates to 37,461 deaths that tragically occurred on streets and highways in the United States last year. Shockingly, that amounted to more than 102 deaths on average every day of 2016.
For obvious reasons, safety officials want to reverse the trend, but find it hard to do so. Again, it is human error that road experts say is the catalyst both figuratively and literally driving the surging wrongful death numbers, and negligence is hard to combat through regulation and enforcement mechanisms.
A recent national media report on the rising crash numbers does point to one bright cloud in an otherwise gloomy traffic landscape, namely, "the adoption of new safety features and investments in partially self-driving cars."
Ironically, self-driving vehicles were derided at one time as pure science-fiction entities that, if realized, could never be as safe as cars with human operators.
Many regulators now think in polar opposite fashion, with a strong push being made currently by the federal government and auto manufacturers to get fully automated passenger vehicles on American roadways as quickly as possible. The above-cited article notes the broad expectation that they will "play a key role" in promoting national safety by taking the steering wheel away from human hands.