Third Party & Independents Archives

It's Time Washington Got Serious About Driverless Cars

Like it or not, driverless vehicles are on their way. While it’s easy to imagine what kind of implications they will have on our everyday lives - more time during your commute to read the morning paper or enjoy your coffee, for example - it’s a little more difficult to imagine how they will affect the economy on both a national and global scale, not to mention our personal finances.

That said, the news so far is very promising, making it all the more obvious that our leaders need to get serious about this coming revolution. So far, only four states (California, Nevada, Florida, and Michigan) have officially made the use of driverless cars legal. Which state will be next?

Driverless Cars and Safety

In the US, 88 people die every day from automobile accidents. More than 81% of those are attributed to human error. If we can eliminate or remove that issue, everybody's safety will vastly improve. Then there's the point that a computer-driven vehicle will never be operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol; that alone could alleviate many vehicle-related incidents. Currently, an estimated 5.5 million automobile accidents happen each year in the United States. One can only hope that the birth of driverless cars will indeed reduce that massive number.

Cars Stats.png

To see the full infographic, click here.

According to a study conducted by the Eno Center for Transportation, if just 10% of the cars and trucks on the road were self-driving, then it would reduce annual traffic deaths by 1,000 and generate an additional $38 billion in economic savings. It doesn't sound that far-fetched; hospital bills aren't cheap, and if the winds of universal health care keep blowing the way they are, we'll all be looking for ways to reduce our shared medical expenses.

But that doesn't mean accidents won't happen. Driverless vehicles do introduce some new and interesting safety concerns, even if they eliminate others. For instance, inclement weather may negatively affect a camera or motion sensor used to navigate - at least, for now. Google has reportedly made some breakthroughs on that front, though a production-ready version of the software is still quite a long way off.

So that takes care of safety. What economic impact will these cars have?

Driverless Cars and the Economy

One of the biggest hurdles with electric and hybrid vehicles is the cost. Right now, only a small portion of the population can afford them. This is because, when compared to conventional vehicles, there's still a pretty significant price gap. With all of the sensors, software, engineering, power, and computing requirements, driverless vehicles will cost an estimated $100,000 - well out of the affordable range for most consumers. So it's going to be a while before that cost is reduced enough to make them a viable alternative.

Nevertheless, companies like General Motors, Nissan, Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo are all testing driverless systems. The current pioneer in this field, and almost certainly the closest to market, is Google. Google's fleet of driverless cars has already racked up over 400,000 accident-free miles on California public roads.

As for the economic impact they will have if they become widely available, the projected stats are quite encouraging.

More than 40% of gasoline in urban locations is burned while the driver is looking for parking. An internet-connected, driverless vehicle could keep track of open spots and eliminate this problem. Furthermore, automated transportation vehicles could free up lots of prime urban real estate - as much as 85%.

The real point is that driverless vehicles will improve the economy by reducing our dependency on fuel and time spent behind the wheel. They can also be programmed to meet the needs of various situations, like the parking issue described above. Imagine a vehicle that can drop you off at your destination and park itself, while you head inside to do your thing.

If just 20% of the cars on the road were replaced with self-driving cars, the total economic savings could reach $109.7 billion. That sounds like a pretty good start.

Posted by DFaris at December 2, 2014 9:57 AM
Comment #386303

First, why does Washington have to get serious about driverless cars? Can you imagine what Washington would tell Farmer Joe what he needs to do to accommodate these automobiles?

Second, they cannot recognize temporary traffic signals or cops directing traffic. They swerve to avoid objects in the road human drivers would drive over.

Third, I doubt the public would submit to a vehicle without a steering wheel, brake or gas pedals.

But, I’m not commenting to burst your bubble!

Your post reminds me of a childhood dream I’ve entertained. The merger of the individual mode of transportation (car) and public transportation (bus/train).

Much of the inconvienence of public transportation is waiting and switching to differenet routes. You get to the closest spot and then walk/pay for a ride to your destination. Even taking a bicycle is extremely inconvient to everyone involved.

The merger of the two modes, i.e. at a certain time you enter your driverless vehicle. It takes you the the first merging point (busstop) as the bus passing. Your vehicle and the bus match speed and merge creating a train. Your driverless vehicle detaches itself and procedes to your individual destination or remerges with another bus or creates it’s own, gathering like minded travelers as it gets closer to the destination.

This merger of technology would preserve the individual’s autonomy over his destination and vehicle while providing the safety and cost savings of being part of a single entity.

Sure, it’s still futuristic, but I’m sure if you change the way people drive their personal vehicles you are going to have to change the overall transportation system to accomodate them.

Posted by: Weary Willie at December 2, 2014 2:59 PM
Comment #386304

Can you imagine what would happen if a hundred people from Ferguson, MO. got on a bus and the bus buttoned up and started driving off without a driver?!

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