My mother asked me the other day if I would ever want to own a driverless car. My answer, of course, was an enthusiastic yes, but she couldn't understand why. However, driverless (or self-driving) cars will change life in many ways for many, many people, and if you want to be prepared for the changes, it's best to think ahead and try to foresee what changes will occur. How much will this invention transform our lives and our society? You might be surprised!
The first change is that people who lose the ability to drive will still be able to get around, making the lives of caregivers easier, because people who are blind or otherwise unable to drive will have much more independence. So, retailers take note: start implementing signs in Braille! People will be able to go to the doctor, or the store, whereas before they would have to depend on public transportation or the kindness of friends or family. Older people will also be able to socialize with others longer and more often than they would have. Young people (even children) will be able to summon a driverless car to go to events, doctor or dentist appointments, and other activities without the need for parental supervision. Apps that summon cars for children will need a parent's authorization. Those who have had their driver license suspended will regain their mobility and independence.
Insurance Policy from 1796
Another big change will be in the insurance industry. Except for comprehensive insurance, automobile insurance will be a dinosaur, because every accident will either be the fault of a driver in a regular car, or the fault of the software or manufacturer. The insurance companies are not preparing for this eventuality yet, but it will be upon us very soon.
People who use self-driving cars could use their commuting time for pleasure or work, instead of wasting it with the hassles of driving. Road rage incidents should decrease, and traffic jams might well be a thing of the past!
With enough efficiency, toll roads will become less used, and may disappear altogether, and land devoted to highways might be turned to other uses.
As driverless cars become more common, it will become possible to have more shared cars. While car-sharing is starting to take hold, the problem now is getting to the car itself. Self-driving cars will be available on call, without human intervention. With fewer cars manufactured, the automobile industry will face another set of challenges. Fortunately, automobile factories can be retooled to produce other kinds of machines, and the skills acquired in auto manufacturing can be transferred to other industries.
While the petroleum industry is already experiencing a major decline, with vastly improved mileage standards looming on the horizon, and the increased efficiency of fewer traffic jams and better driving habits, this is an industry that will suffer a major downturn. In fact, most driverless automobiles will probably be electric, so there will be an ever-decreasing need for traditional fuels.
Shopping and Shipping
With the advent of driverless cars will come driverless trucks, too. Shipping will no longer require human intervention on the roadways; less time will be spent in transport, and shipping costs will be greatly reduced. Pizzas and other hot food can be delivered without drivers (no more tipping!) and costs will be driven down with fewer employees. More retailers will adopt the "just in time" delivery strategy, and stocks will be kept to a minimum; retailers might well have only a sample to show customers, with the item delivered to their door by drone or self-driving car.
Of course, the truck-driving industry, truck stops, trade schools that teach truck driving, and associated industries will suffer a downturn, too. However, there will still be a need for mechanics!
Gavel and Law Books
Another industry that will undergo a dramatic transformation is law enforcement. Traffic tickets, DUIs, and many other violations will be rare or completely absent. Many towns which obtain a substantial portion of their revenues from moving or non-moving violations will be forced to seek other sources of revenue. Police officers will be reassigned or downsized. People who have had their license suspended, or would never get a license, will be able to use driverless cars to get where they are going.
The driver license issuing authorities will also undergo a transformation as licenses become rare. The exam to receive a driver license may become much more stringent, as self-driving cars move into the majority of vehicles on the road.
Pedestrian and auto-related fatalities and injuries will decline rapidly, because driverless cars are far less likely to be involved in accidents. Many personal injury lawyers will be forced to seek other lines of work, and that, of course, means fewer television advertisements for such lawyers that we will have to endure. Television stations depending on this source of revenue will have to seek other sources.
Crime is likely to change, as well. With no opportunity to speed in a getaway car, and the self-driving car being easily trackable, we are likely to see a tidal shift in the types of crimes committed, and law enforcement organizations should start preparing for this eventuality.
Other Transportation-Related Industries
Rules of the road will become obsolete. There will be no need for traffic signals, stop signs, lane stripes, or any of the kinds of rule-keeping tools we have now. Of course, these industries employ people, so these workers will have to find other types of employment.
Taxi, limousine, and personal driver services will be greatly curtailed. While some people may continue to hang on to a personal driver, these services will be a luxury.
As is usual nowadays, the computer software and hardware industry will experience a dramatic increase. More advanced GPS technology, more sophisticated mapping and route planning, better algorithms for dealing with unexpected road conditions, and better integration of travel amenities like hotels and restaurants will be needed. Processors will be faster to deal with real-world driving conditions, and this will gradually expand into existing processor markets.
There will also be increased demand for more automation, and while some of this is already available (such as turning on your lights inside when you pull into the driveway), as cars begin to communicate with each other (don't worry, there's really no fear of a robot car uprising), keeping track of employees and family members will become easier.
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While it's never possible to foresee every change that will happen in society as new inventions become available, it is clear that self-driving cars will cause an upheaval in our lives. By thinking about the possible consequences of the transformations we will experience, we can better prepare ourselves for what will happen next.