It may have no immediate application to health care today, but an essay in the January/February issue of the Rand Review about so-called autonomous cars is worth mentioning because of the consequences they could have on Americans’ physical and mental well-being in the near future — a much nearer future than you might expect.

And, anyway, it’s about self-driving cars. Who doesn’t want to hear about nifty stuff like that?

If automotive technology continues to advance at its current pace, “we may be on the brink of a new day when cars drive themselves,” according to the piece, written by Scott Schrantz and based on Rand Corp. research. “And,” it goes on, “many other circumstances may change significantly as a result.”

Among the circumstances: fewer crashes and reduced fuel emissions — both of which will have implications for health care providers.

“If cars can drive themselves well, experts envision huge safety improvements in both auto fatalities (there were 32,000 in the United States in 2011) and accidents (in which some element of human error was to blame in two-thirds of the cases),” Schrantz quotes James Anderson, senior behavioral scientist who led a recent Rand study.

Reduced emissions, of course, means the air we breathe will be a lot less likely to sicken us.

And do I even need to mention the benefits to our emotional health of leaving the driving up to the car? Less road rage. More time to relax, work on the computer, Skype our loved ones, read a novel, or — most appealing to me personally — get a little more shut-eye.

There would be other benefits, as well. Autonomous cars could be a boon to people who are blind or disabled. And they would provide better fuel-efficiency and more efficient use of roads because, as the Schrantz puts it, “self-driving cars won’t get bored or distracted, and don’t need to make ego-dives in and out of lanes at alternately fast and slow speeds.”

Naturally, the road ahead is not without its bumps; regulatory issues and cost concerns top the list, and the Rand Review lays out four key policy considerations. But it looks as though what, until recently, seemed like a sci fi fantasy may be on the fast track to becoming reality.