Cars are more maneuverable because of tire design changes. Jet engines are less likely to fail mid-flight thanks to better propulsion mechanics. Clinical diagnoses are more accurate thanks to improvements in medical imaging.
Over the last half-century, such advances have forced a drop in deaths caused by technical lapses. And now, technology is used to reduce fatalities caused by human error. But we need more.
Here’s an example. Because speeding is a significant contributor to road fatalities, the Canadian province of Ontario has mandated so-called speed limiters, or governors, to be installed on heavy trucks. Once the vehicle reaches a pre-set top speed — 65 miles per hour in Ontario — this tiny microchip restricts the flow of air and fuel to the engine, preventing the driver from accelerating.
In aviation, a similar design principle underlies “fly-by-wire” flight control systems, computer automation that can prevent a pilot from maneuvering an airplane in ways pre-determined as unsafe by the manufacturer.
These technologies have had the intended effect. In Ontario, the number of fatalities caused by heavy truck accidents dropped 24 percent in the first year of the speed limiter mandate, and trucks themselves were half as likely to crash when equipped with the speed limiting technology.
And most aviation experts agree that fly-by-wire technology has helped reduce the risk of flight-related fatalities. In fact, writer and former pilot William Langewiesche has credited the 2009 “miracle” landing on the Hudson River by US Airways flight 1549 in part to fly-by-wire.