How big a deal is this? Huge. It's up there with the advent of the Internet, railroads in the 1800s, and probably advanced medicine, the microchip, and television. It's the most disruptive technology of our children's time.
I'll leave it to naysayers and Luddites to quibble over the problems that we will overcome for this to happen. Meantime, here are 99 massive disruptions that autonomous vehicles will cause--things that forward-thinkers and companies like Apple, Google, Tesla, Uber (plus Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and a few dozen others) see clearly on the horizon.
1. There will be fewer accidents and deaths.
Removing the chance for user/driver error will result in far fewer injuries and deaths from motor vehicles. By some estimates, 13,000 people who would otherwise be killed in car crashes each year, will instead live.
Pittsburgh has self-driving Ubers!!!! I have never wanted so badly to enter a strange car pic.twitter.com/VP9bPJ0T3r-- Helen Rosner (@hels) August 26, 2016
2. Cars will communicate with each other.
Currently, self-driving vehicles have to interact with vehicles driven by humans. That's most of the problem and the challenge. So, we'll solve this by letting self-drivers dominate. Cars will communicate with each other--warning other vehicles constantly of their location, intentions, and even cargo.
3. Cars will communicate with you (or your clothes).
Instead of teaching cars to "see," we'll ultimately require humans to become visible to them. How? Well, much as you wouldn't go running at night on a road without reflective trim or a light today, pedestrians will be expected to carry some kind of RF device that lets cars know they're there.
4. Pets will wear RF collars.
We love our pets. We will want to protect them, too. Expect these to become mandatory, too.
5. More cars will pack in safely.
Cars that communicate with each other will be able to follow closely more safely, and therefore be packed in more tightly. That could mean squeezing four or five lanes into the current space allocated to a three-lane highway.
6. Less car ownership.
Self-driving cars won't ultimately be owned or used by individuals; they'll be shared and summoned, Uber-style. It won't be too long--a couple of decades at most, before individual car ownership starts to seem anachronistic.
7. Less state tax revenue (sales/excise tax on cars).
This is gigantic. In many states, automobile dealers are the most powerful lobby because sales tax on cars is such a giant source of income for state budgets. That all dries up if people no longer own cars. States will either have to make it up somewhere else, or cut spending.
8. Loss of truck driver jobs.
Self-driving trucks means fewer truck drivers. To the extent we still want human oversight, you can imagine a single caretaker accompanying the equivalent of a dozen or more modern trailers.
9. Less dependency on fossil fuels
Self-driving cars go hand in hand with electric vehicles. Plus even those that use fossil fuels will use them more efficiently.
10. Less pollution.
Well, at least less pollution from individual cars. More cooperation and efficiency should mean fewer noxious emissions.
11. Road culture? Probably gone.
The Wild West ended as the freedom of the road began. Now they'll both be gone. Also: Route 66? Born to Run? Little Red Corvette? If there are songs or other art based on driving, they'll be 100 percent about nostalgia.
12. Laws will change.
Uber self-driving cars are starting in Pittsburgh. Ohio is opening its turnpike to autonomous vehicles. Jurisdictions that change their laws to prioritize self-driving cars will see big, compounding economic benefits. As an American, I hope we'll be on the forefront--but if we aren't, other countries will dominate.
13. Home values will fluctuate.
Location, location, location, real estate agents always say. With self-driving cars becoming the norm, longer commutes would be less of a deal-breaker, and that will affect home prices.
14. So much for off-roading.
It's only a minority of people doing this now anyway, but the market for cars and trucks that can drive off-road will be smaller.
15. Longer commutes and less free time.
Wait, won't this mean you'll have MORE time to yourself? Sure, until your boss realizes that you're 100% free to work while you commute, and expects you to work more. (Spoiler alert: He or she will!)
16. Almost no privacy.
Wherever you go, you will likely be recorded on camera when you use a self-driving car. Your travel habits will be logged. Law enforcement agencies, and even parties in civil suits, will be able to obtain these records. Sorry.
17. Loss of Uber-type jobs.
The drivers already know this is coming. The good news is that it will still take some years to transition.
18. Complete automation of supply chains.
Good could be manufactured, packaged, shipped, and delivered to you without a human being ever touching them.
19. More sex on the road.
Notwithstanding #16, I'll just leave this one here: Couples on the road... hours at a time... all alone, with no need to control the vehicle... Sex will happen.
20. No drunk driving.
Had too much to drink? No problem, your car will be its own designated driver. And if you never drink, you'll still benefit--with fewer "other drunks" on the road.
21. No road construction zones.
At least, there won't be what we think of now, with orange cones and lower speed limits. Cars will just react to road maintenance far ahead of time, like they do with everything else. Passengers likely won't even notice.
22. More squeezing in (unless you can afford it).
Self-driving cars will mean a push toward efficiency in vehicle capacity. If you want to bring a friend or stretch out, you'll pay for the extra room--much as we all pay for legroom on airplanes now.
23. No more "mom's taxi."
Your 12 year-old son or daughter will be able to go to soccer practice and come back home without you ever having to get behind the wheel. How does that change the daily routines of millions of stay-at-home parents?
24. Fewer gas stations and repair shops.
Cars will schedule maintenance and respond to problems automatically. Depending on advances they might ultimately even refuel as they move, via infrastructure built right into the highways.
25. End of the "last-mile" problem.
The last step of delivery--brining a specific item to a specific customer--is often the most expensive. With self-driving vehicles, this should no longer be the case.
26. Cars without steering wheels and pedals.
We probably won't give these up for a bit, because we'll like to pretend we're in control for a while longer. But you won't really need them if you're not driving.
27. The end of auto financing.
If you won't actually own a self-driving car, why would you need financing?
28. Less need for parking.
Why would a driverless car ever have to be parked? Even if it did, you'll be able to leave farther away--and you simply summon it (or another one) when you need it again.
29. No more fatigued driving.
From Vox: "More than 33,000 people die each year in the United States from automobile crashes. And roughly 40 percent of fatal accidents are caused by alcohol, distraction, drugs, or fatigue. ... Letting robots take the wheel would save lives."
30. We'll sleep while traveling.
We might even be able to lie down, fully--at least if we're willing to pay for the extra space (see #22 above).
31. Less constituency for public transportation.
Tougher to predict, but when almost everyone can summon a reasonably priced ride to go anywhere, only the least affluent people will care about true public transport, like bus routes and subway lines.
32. Much more predictable traffic time.
Think Waze is good? Imagine when your car knows exactly where every other car on its route is heading.
33. Fewer excuses for being late.
Think of some of the most common B.S. excuses people use: The train was late! Traffic was horrible! I had a flat tire! They'll all be gone now.
34. Asphalt communicates with cars.
Again, part of the way to avoid cars having to be omniscient will be for everything to communicate with everything else. That will mean smart roads that can alert cars to road hazards, features--even the exact size, shape and depth of ice and puddles.
35. No more honking.
No need for a horn to signal emergency or register impatience. Cars will simply signal silently to each other.
36. Less time wasted looking for parking.
Related to not having to park, is the matter of never having to look for parking. (As someone who has lived in Boston, New York and Washington, I feel for this one.) According to one MIT study: "In congested urban areas, about 40 percent of total gasoline use is in cars looking for parking."
37. No real need for headlights or taillights.
These probably won't go away entirely, but a car that doesn't "see" on the same visible spectrum of light as humans won't really need to illuminate the road.
Almost every other time-saving device we've heard about has ultimately managed to lead us to spend more time working. I'm not sure how this will turnout, but expect to read articles in 20 years about how "self-driving cars were supposed to make life easier..."
39. Robots will pretty much start doing everything.
Will we trust armed robot security guards? Soldiers? A self-flying plane--with hundreds of passengers but nobody at the wheel? I have no idea, but the second and third order effects of devoting billions to self-driving car research will likely lead to massive leaps forward in other related areas.
40. Less, ahem, compensating by size or aggression of car.
First, you probably won't own the car to begin with, but second, even if you do, it would be like projecting aggression over how shiny your shoes are. Totally irrelevant.
41. One fewer rite of passage.
Where will the excitement be about turning 16 (or whatever the driving age is where you live)? If you live in the suburbs or a rural area, you can only imagine how different this would be!
42. Fewer police on the road.
What would the highway patrol do if there were no drivers?
43. Fewer train accidents.
There shouldn't be any accidents involving trains and cars. (Also, we'll probably soon have 100 percent self-driving trains, too.)
44. Might need fewer cops period.
In 2011, 42 percent of the contact that Americans had with police was in the form of motor vehicle stops. We won't need highway patrols, but we also won't need cops to direct traffic, inspect vehicles, or handle vehicle-related crime.
45. Road features built to communicate.
Similar to asphalt, but when we now block off traffic with orange cones and barriers, expect an emphasis on Rf or other ways of communicating directly with the cars.
46. Say goodbye to Flo and the Gecko.
If people no longer own cars, they don't need car insurance. What's the future for companies like Progressive and Geico?
47. Preference for self driving in law.
As the percentage of self-driving cars grows, the law will shift to prefer them. For example, perhaps cars driven by humans will be relegated to a single right-hand lane on the highway, until they're phased out entirely. If this seems far-fetched, just think about how different automobile travel is today compared to 100 years ago.
48. Seismic shift in tort law (and who pays).
If any law students out there are looking for a great subject for a law review note, maybe this is it: With driverless cars, and almost no individual driving or ownership, an entire subset of American lawyers will be looking for somebody else to sue. Who will it be?
49. More mobility for disabled people.
Mobility studies about the impact of self-driving cars tend to focus on the impact on younger and older drivers, but there's another big class as well: People who cannot drive for physical or medical reasons. They will become much more mobile.
50. Sponsorship changes.
Three of the top 10 advertisers in America are car companies. Who will sponsors stadiums and sporting events when their businesses are totally disrupted?
51. Tiered rights to speed.
We won't all have the same speed limit. If you're willing to pay more, you'll be able to go faster. Other cars carrying people who have paid less will simply move out of your way.
52. Commuting changes radically.
Imagine if you could ride a train that goes directly from your house to the office, travels on your schedule, requires no work from you, and you're guaranteed a seat. Yeah, it will be like that.
53. No more auto parts stores.
There will be no more retail stores for auto parts, because there will be almost no retail market.
54. No need for toll lanes or E-ZPass.
Passengers will either be charged directly for miles, or the companies that own them will. Either way, the physical toll booth will be a thing of the past.
55. Loss of revenue source for towns/states (speeding tickets).
No drivers means no speeding tickets. This is a massive source of revenue in some cities and towns. (See this report about Ferguson, Missouri, for example).
56. Massive public savings.
From Vox, citing a study at the University of Texas: "If 10 percent of the vehicles ... were self-driving cars, the country could save more than $37 billion a year due to fewer deaths, less fuel, more free time, etc. If we reached ... 90 percent of the cars on the road, the benefits would rise to some $447.1 billion a year."
57. Need for a different form of identification.
We don't have a national ID card in America, so the de facto substitute is the driver's license. Most of us won't need these anymore, so we'll need to come up with a substitute.
58. "Security theater" emergency controls.
Even if we don't really need drivers, it will be a long time before people are willing to 100 percent give up control, at least in emergencies. So expect some kind of "emergency stop" button like we see on subways now.
59. No crossing guards.
If every person has an RF beacon and every car can "see" and react to it, even school crossing guards would seem to be superfluous.
60. Loss of tax revenue (gas tax).
We'll be facing this with more electric cars whether they're self-driving or not.
61. No need for sirens.
Self-driving cars that communicate with each other will clear a path for ambulances and fire trucks. In the meantime, self-driving cars will recognize the flashing light patterns on emergency vehicles, and yield. (By the way, this is a huge issue in congested cities. now.)
62. The end of new car dealerships.
If you don't need to own your own car, why would you need a dealer?
63. Also, the end of used car dealerships.
Used cars won't really exist as we currently think of them. Also, with used car salespeople gone, we'll need a new metaphor for dishonesty.
64. No more getting lost.
Self-driving cars will handle navigation, of course. You won't have to look down at your phone, even.
65. Text as much as you want.
Distract yourself to your heart's content, as long as you're not driving.
66. More efficient parking spaces.
When cars do have to park, there will be no need to leave openings for specific vehicles to get out, or even to leave room between them for the doors to open. We'll be able to fit a multiple of the current number in any parking structure.
67. Driving your own car will seem old.
In the short-term, some people will hang on to the notion of driving on their own of course, much as some holdouts who insist on typing on typewriters, or putting two spaces after a period. Over time, they'll disappear; in the meantime, they'll simply seem anachronistic, or an act of conspicuous consumption..
68. No car chases.
If the car controls itself, it's hard to imagine there being any way that someone in a car can try to outrun the police.
69. There will be no need for older people to stop driving.
Many states have restrictions that made license renewals stricter as drivers get older, on the assumption that older people may have health problems that make it less safe for them to drive. That concern goes away--in fact, it's not clear we'll need licenses to begin with.
70. More jobs.
They'll be different jobs, for sure. But the technologies and manufacturing required for self-driving cars will be different--and those who master them will be super-employable.
71. Seats may face backward.
This one is interesting. In fact, sitting with your back to the front is actually safer in a crash--although we don't expect to have as many of those anyway.
72. Street sweeping & cleanliness will become very important.
Much more important job to keep roadways free of debris. Good news is that we will be notified immediately when something needs to be cleaned up, because a car that comes across debris will notify every other car.
73. No need to call them driverless.
This term will disappear, same as we stopped referring to cars as "horseless carriages."
74. Taxi medallions will be worthless.
The value of New York City taxi medallions has nose-dived from about $1 million to $500,000 in a single year, mostly because of Uber. Ultimately, anyone can get a self-driving car instantly, they'll be functionally worthless.
75. Pay per mile and minute.
If you don't own a car, you'll still pay for transportation. Maybe corporations will manage to charge you even for things you don't need or want, much as cable companies do now.
76. Rental car companies adapt or die.
Schlepping to the rental counter will be a thing of the past.
77. Overhaul of which companies are leaders.
There will be shakeouts and the list will be dynamic over time. But the one thing we can guarantee is that today's leaders won't be tomorrows
78. An 18-year-old drinking age, again.
The drinking age in the United States was 18 a generation ago; now it's 21, With no drunk driving, and with a massive alcoholic beverages lobby, expect to see it go down.
79. Loss of taxicab jobs.
Same thing as Uber drivers.
80. Different gender roles.
Men still always seem to drive. Ever wonder why? Not anymore.
81. No windshields?
Passengers will always want windows, but if nobody inside a car is actually driving it, there will be no need to have front passengers sit just behind a massive piece of glass (which despite many advances, is still dangerous as heck in an accident). Expect front windows to be smaller, and perhaps for passengers to be set back further than we are used to.
82. The end of talk radio and DJs?
About 60 percent of Americans listened to over-the-air radio while driving as of a few years ago, according to an industry study, a number that has been falling. With self-driving cars, we'll have the entire array of entertainment and media choices. It won't be long before cars don't even bother to include AM/FM tuners.
83. Baby seats become a relic of the past?
We wouldn't really need baby seats if cars almost never got in accidents. Would we do away with them?
84. Less road rage
I'm sure there will still be frustrations, but aggressive driving, and people getting angry about other drivers? Things of the past.
85. No more left lane hogging.
Ever been stuck in congestion on the highway, only to realize that the backup is due to one car driving slowly in the left lane and blocking all the traffic? States are starting to crack down on this behavior, but it will soon be a thing of the past.
86. No right to be free from search/seizure
The irony of having fewer highway patrol officers will be that just about anyone's driverless car will likely be subject to being stopped and searched. You likely won't have any more right to object than you do now when you're traveling on a train or plane.
87. Transfer energy from one car to another?
A little more science fiction, but if cars can communicate with each other, why can't they transfer energy? Imagine your car slowing down by gently and safely bumping another car that is trying to speed up.
88. More green in cities.
On most city streets, the equivalent of two car widths are taken up for parking. We won't need these anymore. Expect to see more bike lanes and efforts to beautify with more plants, trees, and other natural features.
89. More riding bikes & walking.
It'll be safer, so more people will walk and bike to work or anywhere else they need to travel--especially in urban areas.
90. More innovation in biking.
The only time you'll really control your physical movement will be walking and biking. So, expect people to do more of these activities, and also for there to be more innovation in people-powered modes of transportation.
91. Noise (or lack thereof) will be an issue.
Self driving cars don't have to be electric, but it seems likely. They're quiet. Cities will sound very different.
92. Easier to imagine flying cars
This was always the cliche of the future, but one of the biggest things preventing it is the complexity of having many more flying objects all coordinating with each other in 3D. It'll be easier to imagine when computers, not humans, are doing the flying.
93. No more loud pipes.
If you're not driving, and you don't own the car, there's not a lot of chance to rev the engine--and certainly not much opportunity for the kind of doofuses who intentionally have loud engines just to make noise.
94. Everything will be delivered.
If the "last mile" problem is null, then pretty much anything you'd ever want to purchase will be delivered to you, rather than you having to go pick it up.
95. Retail will be all about the experience.
Continuing on #94, if everything will be delivered, retail businesses will have to double down on other ways to entice customers besides convenience. Expect even more focus on social experience or status.
96. No such thing as coal rolling.
Truthfully, I never heard of this until the other day. But it'll be gone.
97. Less obesity.
See #89. More walking and riding bikes should lead to a noticeably fitter country.
98. No more convertibles.
Or at least far fewer of them. If you really want a drop top, you'll pay extra for it, on a per-ride basis. (But expect the price to go through the roof, no pun intended, on nice spring days.)
99. Pedestrian-first policies.
You might have heard of the secret history of jaywalking--how car companies managed to upend the laws a century ago so that vehicles, not pedestrians, had the right of way on the roads. Expect that to change now, as people declare their God-given superiority over robots.
We could keep going, but let's stop at 99. Now it's your turn. Do you think we're overstating the impact of self-driving cars? If not, what other major disruptions do you expect? Let us know in the comments below.