If the driverless car revolution isn’t already here, it’s certainly out of the garage at this point. Major players like Tesla and Uber are already rolling out their self-driving technology, with traditional car manufacturers like Mercedes, Toyota, Nissan, and others following suit. Experts estimate there will be 10 million automated cars on the roads by the end of this decade, more than doubling in another fifteen years. It certainly looks like a disruption of the entire idea of driving is already underway
As with any massive cultural change, some stand poised to benefit, while others will fall by the wayside. These are just some of the potential winners and losers in the driverless future.
Winners: Tech Leaders
Let’s get the most undeniable one out of the way. The companies that have taken the point on this technology (Google, Tesla, Uber, and others) will see the greatest benefit from it’s spread. If they can get their autonomous vehicles and their proprietary software on the roads fastest and most effectively, they’ll reap an incredible benefit. Right now, it’s just a matter of time to see who makes the first big splash.
Even though it still might feel like driverless cars aren’t the safest way to get around, the fact is that the incidence of accidents is much lower than people might expect and is getting better every day as the technology is refined and improved. With strict safety protocols in place, it stands to reason that we’ll witness a massive drop in the 3,287 deaths from auto accidents per day that we currently see. Any way you feel about this sea change, this is a massive benefit for all of society.
Those of us who drive to work (an estimated 90% of the American workforce) know the often dull routine of sitting behind the wheel, staring at the rear bumper of the car ahead, wondering if we left the stove on. Consider being able to use that time in any number of ways, getting some work done, reading the morning news, or even taking a power nap while your car gets you to work safely. It’s not a stretch to say commuters might see the greatest everyday life improvement from this revolution.
One group that isn’t often brought up in conversations about disruption are the disabled. People who now are unable to operate cars due to physical limitations may benefit from cars that don’t need much human input to get around. Not every case is the same, of course, but a great many people will potentially be more independent with an automated vehicle.
Unfortunately, there are also a number of negatives to this future. Not everyone stands to gain from this sea change in transportation, and some businesses and industries stand to lose everything.
Losers: Professional Drivers
At the current moment, this looks to be the most devastating outcome of the change to a driverless world. More than 3 million Americans make their living operating trucks, buses, and cars. That’s an enormous proportion of the workforce that is going to disappear completely once automated driving becomes the norm.
The Parking Industry
The words might look strange together, but the parking industry is very real and is estimated to be worth $25 billion in the United States, and €50 million in Western Europe. Once both regions are saturated with automated cars that can drop you off and drive themselves home, the need for publically accessed parking lots will go by the wayside. What is a great advantage for driving consumers will put a number of companies out of business.
A large percentage of many towns and municipalities’ income comes from ticketing unsafe drivers and speed limit violators. Indeed, at least one town has used that money as over three quarters of their general revenue. One estimate put the number collected on traffic violations nationwide at $6.2 billion dollars per year. While drivers will be happy to have these fines out of their lives, smaller towns may be unable to stay afloat without the money they currently get from rule-breaking drivers.
It may sound ghoulish but it’s just a simple fact: insurers depend on accidents to keep themselves in operation. The car insurance industry is based completely around aberrant driving, the kind that will mostly be a thing of the past once cars are driving themselves. Major car insurers might find themselves expanding into different forms of coverage or risk going completely by the wayside in the coming decades.