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Who's Gonna Drive You Home Tonight? How Driverless Cars Wil Reshape Our Society

Who's Gonna Drive You Home Tonight? How Driverless Cars Wil Reshape Our Society

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Who's Gonna Drive You Home Tonight? How Driverless Cars Wil Reshape Our Society

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Lançado em:
Jan 19, 2018


A view of the broad changes that will occur in our society with driverless cars, beyond the obvious benefits of drastically reducing deaths and injuries from automobile accidents. The automobile's design, marketing, and ownership will change drastically. People will think of point-to-point travel differently, buses and trains may disappear, and our homes and neighborhoods will be completely different. And that's just for starters.
Lançado em:
Jan 19, 2018

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Who's Gonna Drive You Home Tonight? How Driverless Cars Wil Reshape Our Society - Robert Steuernagel

Who's Gonna Drive You Home Tonight? How Driverless Cars Wil Reshape Our Society

Who’s Gonna Drive You Home Tonight? How Driverless Cars Will Reshape Our Society


Robert Steuernagel

Copyright © 2018 by Robert Steuernagel

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

First Printing: 2018

ISBN 978-1-387-52849-3


Driving is a series of near-accidents, occasionally punctuated by an accident.  These occasional incidents happen once every 60 seconds in the United states, and cause thousands of deaths and injuries, and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage every year.  Since the requirements for a driver’s license are so minimal, it’s no wonder that most accidents are caused by driver error.  If we can perfect the accident-free driverless car, traveling by car will become very boring, without the adrenaline rush of all our near- and actual accidents, and we will be much better off the more boring it gets.

The evolution of automobile travel into a generally–available commodity and its social implications have been well documented.  Teenage and extramarital sex, migration from cities and farms to suburbs, shopping malls, vacation travel, family separation, expanded career and lifestyle choices, all have been attributed to automobile ownership for the masses and the development of world-wide highway systems. 

The automobile has not only given us the freedom to travel far on our own schedule and at our own speed, it has allowed us to escape the scrutiny of our spouses, parents, employers, and friends.  It has permitted us to explore homes and jobs farther away than we could have imagined.  But it has also shaped the world we live in every day.  It has enabled us to live in suburbs instead of the city.  It has enabled many families to have front lawns and picket fences.  It has paved the road between the highway and our home.  It has caused the development of the cul-de-sac neighborhood for safety and convenience, and the curved residential area for appearance.  It has given a majority of homes in America a garage and a driveway, for better or worse.

The automobile has also given us one of the primary causes of death and injury, distracted driving, road rage, pink and aqua motels, traffic tickets, drunk driving, paved parking lots, car loan debt, drive-thru restaurants, and a host of other ills (or benefits, depending on your taste).

The advent of driverless automobiles will also revolutionize world society.  The changes are so great that even the most obvious changes – fuel savings, traffic relief, and reduction of automobile injuries and fatalities (both in-vehicle and pedestrian) to practically zero - will produce enormous benefits for the entire population.  But beyond this, there are both positive and negative repercussions, like the possible end of the sport of driving, the end of the need for car ownership, a smaller automobile industry, the end of parking lots, job losses, the end of parked cars, driveways, garages in homes, and streets themselves.

Further, if we combine the evolution of driverless cars with other trends for the future, what happens when the death of the retail store caused by the Internet shopping phenomenon is combined with the lack of need to own a car when point-to-point transportation is almost instantly available?  What will parents do with several additional free hours per week when they no longer must carpool children to school and complete an endless stream of errands by driving?  What will happen when car insurance is no longer necessary because no accidents (or maybe even no car thefts) occur? 

We are just touching the surface of the implications of driverless cars.  Every concept we consider makes the mind leap to new social, economic, and personal implications.  This book is an attempt to pursue the possible futures and implications of driverless cars in an orderly manner.  It is hoped that the reader can use these possibilities to consider new careers, investment opportunities, and lifestyles ahead of the pack, perhaps to consider the risk of the purchase of a new luxury vehicle or suburban home in the near future, or merely be entertained by the astounding possibilities offered by the driverless car phenomenon.  Our list is certainly not complete, and many aspects of our driverless future will no doubt be added or subtracted as the next few decades unfold. Our scenarios are chancy to begin with, but may help us to consider the wide range of changes that may occur, and to think about how they might affect our own future.

1. The Basics

Automobile commercials emphasize the importance of the driving experience.  Negotiating mountain roads, high acceleration, fingertip control, rear view cameras, self-parking, and accident avoidance are among the common themes in the latest commercials.  Driving a Lincoln is better than falling backwards into a pool.    If you buy a new XXX, your spouse or partner will exchange meaningful looks with you from the passenger seat as you execute wheel-skidding 360º turns in an empty midtown Manhattan.  While luxury cars used to be large and heavy to give a floating soft ride, today luxury means lots of horsepower and electronics, and a stiff, sports-car ride to make the driver feel that handling is important, that he or she is driving a racing car instead of a sedan, even though it is unimportant in most driving situations.

But when you are in a driverless car, there is no driving experience.  There are no drivers anymore, only passengers.  Some former drivers will enjoy the ability to conduct business or play cards while driving…er, being driven to, their work or recreation.  Others will find that they have already adjusted to downtime by texting and idly browsing the Internet while they travel in their driverless car as they do everywhere else in planes, trains, taxis, and buses.  Some will be uncomfortable with the loss of control they experience in a driverless car, much as they feel uncomfortable with a stranger driving them as a passenger.  Many drivers may feel that a right has been taken away if they are induced or forced into a driverless car.  As we consider some of the more immediately important implications of the self-driving car, one result may be that the desire to own your own car may be diluted if the owner has no active part in its performance.  Is it really your car if you aren’t the driver?

The most immediate implications of driverless cars are accident and traffic reduction.  Already we are seeing the benefits of accident-avoidance technology in automobiles and traffic-avoidance computer and cellphone applications.  The driverless car essentially does away with poor driving habits, aggressive driving, driving under the influence, road rage, speeding, and all the ills of a human driver.  Driverless cars cannot accidently step on the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal and go through a storefront.  Driverless cars cannot commit acts of terrorism by purposely driving through a crowd of innocent people, but they also cannot be used by human drivers as instruments of terrorism.  It is assumed that driverless car software may come up with an ‘aggressive’ setting, but only within the limits of the speed and amount of traffic in the vicinity.  Since driverless cars have no emotional bias, they do not get angry when the car in front of them is slow.  They do not resort to irrational behavior, such as trying to pass as many cars as possible in traffic, even though at the end of an hour they have gained only one-half mile by passing 60 cars and increasing their anger and frustration. 

Timid drivers who drive too slowly are just as much of a problem as aggressive ones.  They block the flow of traffic, and cause other drivers to pass and change lanes just to drive at the speed limit.  If traffic is going slightly over the speed limit but all traveling at the same speed, they are safer than if many cars are trying to go faster or slower than the prevailing speed of traffic.  Driverless cars will all try to drive at the prevailing speed of traffic, and will be much better at determining what speed is safe based on road conditions and traffic levels.  Driverless cars will be able to travel at exactly the same speed, and use tailgating safely, only to save fuel by reducing wind drag.  If the lead car needs to make an emergency stop, all the driverless cars behind it will adjust before the lead car even applies its brakes.  But this can only happen when all cars are driverless.  Until we get there, there will be a gradual reduction in traffic and accidents as more and more autonomously-driven cars hit the road.  While we are rapidly adopting many anti-collision accessories on newer cars to increase safety, they apparently have limited effect compared to almost-foolproof driverless cars, once they have been perfected.  A 2009 study conducted by the IIHS found a 7 percent reduction in crashes for vehicles with a basic forward-collision warning system, and a 14 to 15 percent reduction for those with automatic braking. (18)

The first private driverless cars owned by individuals will cause fewer accidents, but can still be victims of accidents cause by the mostly human-driven cars on the road.  Their accident avoidance systems will help defend them from human-driven cars, but human-driven cars will have them too.  A great weakness in current accident avoidance systems is that they react to poor driving instead of preventing it in the first place.  Lane-departure warning systems might better prevent the car from leaving the lane instead of telling us that we have crossed the white line.   A driverless car never leaves the lane to begin with.

As more and more driverless cars hit the road, it will be seen that while both human-driven and driverless cars have accident avoidance systems that prevent many accidents, the human-driven cars will have even more attention drawn to how many accidents they cause, because of the contrast to the autonomous cars’ near perfect record.  Virtually all accidents will be caused by human driven cars.  Since most car accidents are caused by driver error, the error-free driverless cars will easily show early on how few accidents they cause, and how many accidents are avoided with them.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in a 2008 study that 93% of all accidents are caused by human(driver) error. (71).  It’s not just human-driven cars that are the problem, it’s the driver.

After driverless cars show that they cause fewer accidents, more people will understand just how poorly human drivers perform on the road.  It probably wasn’t many days ago that a car pulled out of a parking space in front of you without checking to see if it was clear.  It was recent when a car in the lane next to you started to pull into your lane without looking while you were trying to speed past her.  Once we begin to see how well autonomous vehicles follow the rules, we will understand that driverless cars don’t have to be perfect drivers, they just have to be better than human drivers – which is fairly easy to do.  One phenomenon we may see is that human drivers can follow the safe driving example of driverless cars and tend to drive more safelyUnfortunately, this may generate an argument to move backwards toward more human –driven cars, when in fact it’s the presence of autonomous cars that is improving the safety of all traffic.

Since the benefits depend on how many driverless cars are on the road, how fast will driverless cars be adopted?   If we assume that driverless cars will be introduced around 2020, and generally available by 2025, only 20% of cars and trucks will be driverless by 2030, and it will take until 2040 for 60% or more of cars to be driverless.  It might happen faster if we subsidized junking cars with steering wheels, but otherwise it will take that long just to retire the old cars.  ‘The Future of Autonomous Vehicles and the Impact on Tire Markets to 2026’ forecasts explosive growth for the autonomous vehicles markets to 17.5 million vehicles sold globally by 2026.  If we figure most of those are in the U.S., and there will be 300 million cars in the U.S. by 2026, that’s a 6% penetration, consistent with 20% by 2030.

Another view of the timeline for driverless car penetration(40)

Already, driverless cars are legal in some states, and legislation is pending in many more.  Autonomous vehicles are not some pipe dream of the future.  They are already here.  On October 11, 2017, California approved testing of autonomous vehicles without a human backup driver. (73)

Driverless cars are already legal in some states, and pending legislation         in many more. (42)

The benefits are astounding.   According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, (2), "car accidents happen every minute of the day. Motor vehicle accidents occur in any part of the world every 60 seconds. And if it’s all summed up in a yearly basis, there are 5.25 million driving accidents that take place per year. Statistics show that each year, 43,000 or more of the United States’ population die due to vehicular accidents and around 2.9 million people end up suffering light or severe injuries. In a certain five-year period, there had been recorded 25% of the driving population who encountered or were involved in car accidents."  Since over 2.4 million people die each year, this would mean close to a 2% reduction in the death rate and a close to one year increase in everyone’s average life expectancy.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (1), there were 32,166 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2015 in which 35,092 deaths occurred (lower than reported above in more recent years). This resulted in 10.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

Of course, we can only expect accidents, injuries, and fatalities to be reduced in proportion to the number of self-driving vehicles on the road.  But if we estimate that half of all autos and trucks will be driverless by 2035, significant progress will be made in less than 2 decades.  According to a CDC study (3), Motor vehicle accidents are the 19th most frequent cause of death worldwide, exceeded only by disease, intentional injuries, and other accidents.

The fatality rates do not include pedestrian deaths and bicycle-auto accidents.  Joggers and bicyclists no longer would be afraid of motorists.   Pedestrians

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