Self-driving cars will lead to a drop in the number of organs donated in the U.S., according to two fellows from the R Street Institute free market think tank. Citing statistics that show driverless cars could save countless lives, and how state DMVs ask motorists if they want to sign up as donors, Ian Adams and Anne Hobson warn that a decline in organ donations is on the way.

“It’s morbid, but the truth is that due to limitations on who can contribute transplants, among the most reliable sources for healthy organs and tissues are the more than 35,000 people killed each year on American roads,” the report published Friday reads.

The pair cite research by roboticist Hod Lipson and technologist Melba Kurman on driverless cars. Around one fifth of organ donations originate from motor vehicle accidents, and around 94 percent of those accidents are caused by human error. Removing the human error from the equation will save lives, but could lead to the unintended consequence of fewer organ donors getting involved in accidents.

story continues below
Will Google's car lead to fewer liver transplants?
Will Google's car lead to fewer liver transplants?

“We’re all for saving lives—we aren’t saying that we should stop self-driving cars so we can preserve a source of organ donation,” the pair write. “But we also need to start thinking now about how to address this coming problem.” Adams and Hobson propose an amendment to federal laws around organ selling, noting that some parts of humans like sperm and eggs already allow for paid donations, and the black market for organ donations already exists.

The alternative, of course, is not selling organs. Researchers are working on 3D printed organs and one company, CELLINK, believes it can theoretically produce a bioink capable of printing organs. If successful, it would mean the poorest in society not literally having to sell a kidney to support themselves, and could ensure that patients get exactly the organ they require at a moment’s notice.

It’s a tough issue that’s going to require some solutions, but it’s safe to say it’s one of the less expected results of getting self-driving cars on the road.

Photos via Getty Images, Mercedes-Benz/YouTube, Getty Images / Justin Sullivan