Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 45 seconds

It seems like news sites report about self-driving cars almost constantly:  they’re coming, they’re getting better, they caused an accident; people love them, people refuse to get in one, people say that they’ll never trust them.

Going back a hundred years or so, newspapers had very similar headlines about the automobile. Technology enthusiasts lauded the automobile as the greatest thing ever; traditionalists said that it was a fad that would put carriage drivers out of work.

What isn’t really reported about self-driving vehicles is just how much they can potentially change our world. Autonomous vehicles aren’t just cars; there may be fleets of self-driving tractor-trailers, and there are already autonomous tractors in farm fields. The impact to our daily lives and our economy is staggering.

Vastly Different Road Habits

When self-driving cars are mixed with traditional automobiles, the impact won’t be as significant; stop lights will still stop traffic, and cars will still bunch up like a giant accordion in traffic jams. But as driverless cars replace the last manually operated cars, the transit time from point to point on the same roads we drive today will be a fraction of what it is today.

Rush hour traffic will virtually disappear as autonomous vehicles with instant reactions make busy intersections nearly 100% efficient by interlacing cross-traffic, eliminating the need for stop lights. Traffic on the highways will cruise by incidents on the side of the road efficiently without the accordion-effect.

An Economic Shift

The economic impact of autonomous vehicles is hard to predict but cannot be ignored. As driverless vehicles become more efficient at driving, identifying hazards correctly, and reacting faster than humans, insurance claims go down and the very need for auto insurance may be something our grandkids talk about like we do the rotary phone.

The cost of long-haul drivers will be all-but-eliminated as driverless big-rigs carry cargo over the road 24 hours a day, with no risk of driver-fatigue. Cost of goods go down as deliveries arrive faster and with less spoilage of perishable goods. Combine that with fleets of autonomous tractors and combines harvesting crops day and night in efficient, satellite-controlled routes with no farmer in sight. These major industry changes would shift economics within these markets as well as impact others.

Unforeseen Social Changes—And Benefits

Autonomous vehicles will certainly impact other aspects of society, maybe even eliminating personal cars altogether. Would future generations even need to purchase vehicles if reliable, safe, and efficient transportation comes from fleets of driverless Uber-like services, able to pick us up in less time than we spend searching for our car keys now? The average person would save the money spent on vehicles to spend on other durable goods, further shifting our economics.

The elephant in the room, however, is the huge force and place the auto industry maintains in society and the economy. Do the gains from autonomous vehicles forecast the end of the auto industry, and could this even be withstood?

Looking back a century at the parallel example, the traditionalists come into focus. They were right, but then the auto industry grew to encompass and employ scores more labor forces. Perhaps history will repeat itself, or perhaps the future will follow a different path, evolving instead of replacing one industry for another.

Last modified on Monday, 24 June 2019
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Deborah Huyett

Deborah Huyett is a professional freelance writer with experience working for a variety of industries. She enjoys and works with all types of writing, and she has been published or ghostwritten for blogs, newsletters, web pages, and books. A former English teacher, Deborah’s passion for writing has always been grounded in the mechanics while appreciating the art of writing. She approaches projects as creative challenges, matching voice and tone for any audience.

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