Impacts Of The Self-Driving Car

15 September 2015

What will the impacts be?  In two words, Not Much.  There are several reasons for this.

Acceptance of the technology.  The public is conflicted.  In a recent survey about self-driving cars, almost a third love the idea and said they’d never drive again.  One quarter said they’d never own one.  Some people like the experience of driving so much (your author being one such) they they loathe the whole idea of self-driving cars.  Moreover, three quarters of those surveyed — including that one-third who love the idea — said they’d never trust self-driven cars to take the kids to school.

The question of wide-spread acceptance is not yet answered but the outlook is chary.

The costs.  The issue of acceptance notwithstanding, the price will tell all.  Remember, this not a “gotta have” technology and never will be — unless mandated by the government or the Insurance industry,

Over the last decade or so, many elements of a driverless car have been built into new cars, e.g., adaptive cruise control, anti-lock brakes, stability systems, electric power steering and of course, GPS navigation.  If all of these had come out in one year’s time, people would have choked on the “sticker shock” but they’ve been introduced one-at-a-time so the pain was not unbearable and the “sticker shock” was tolerated.  The whole panoply of goodies necessary to a completely autonomous car — using today’s technology and best practices — will be $7,000-$10,000 in the year 2525, measured in 2015 dollars.

The Price.  As the price of today’s new car averages $33,560, or 2.6% more than last year, another $7,000 brings the price to $40,560, again in 2015 dollars.

Is this affordable?  A nation-wide study on car affordability showed that, in Chicago which was in the middle on the personal income scale, an affordable car was $21,409, which is roughly half the projected price of a self-driving car.  Is this affordable?  No, not without skewing the prices of other things downward as an offset.  Things like houses, vacations and college educations.  Will you degrade your standard of living in order to buy what can only be described as a “goodie” of marginal value?

And last-but-not-least, there’s the problem of liability and insurance.  The whole system of responsibilities, blame  and torts will have to be rejiggered.  If my driverless car smacks into your driverless car, who do you sue?  The car’s maker?  The company that built the driverless system?  The government that mandated the driverless car?  Certainly not me.

Will we have to have a hold-harmless law for the makers of these goodies so they won’t be put out of business by ruinous class action lawsuits?  Probably.

The mind boggles and the wallet bleeds.

So, then.  The impact on society of a self-driving car is supposed to be huge but given what we know, the public may well blanch at the prospect and settle for some improvements to a known commodity.  So in reality, the true impact will be slight.