After passing legislation last year permitting Google to test-drive self-driving cars, Nevada earlier this week issued Google the first license to operate a driverless vehicle. If you check out this Time article, you’ll see that the vehicle (pictured at left) uses intelligent driving software, proximity sensors and GPS technology to navigate.

To see the car in action, here’s a link to a video produced last year at Google headquarters in San Francisco.

Once the technology’s been thoroughly tested, I can see plenty of benefits in enhanced public safety and economic efficiency.  Most accidents today are caused by driver distraction/incompetence/intoxication. All those would be eliminated as risk factors with driverless cars. Road rage would hopefully disappear, fuel consumption could be optimized, and as the video notes, the increased precision possible with driverless cars would lessen the need for expanded road networks to accommodate increased traffic volumes.

Currently, for instance, there’s a push on to twin a 240 km stretch of highway to Fort McMurray which has recorded 46 fatalities through crashes since 2006. Twinning the road is estimated to cost $1 billion. If driver error and recklessness could be eliminated as risk factors through driverless cars, then expanding the highway wouldn’t be necessary.

One final possible benefit: the billions of dollars we spend now on health care for accident victims could be dramatically reduced if collisions (including those involving cyclists and pedestrians) were similarly reduced.