The biggest focus in the automobile world right now is self driving cars. When will most cars driving around on the streets be self driving and how will that affect our lives? The first self driving car to be mass produced was the Tesla Model X in 2016. This was a major breakout in the car community and a great starting point for self driving cars. Car manufacturers expect self-driving cars to be common by the year 2030 with a saturated market by 2060 (AVIP). Self driving cars will change the lives of nearly everyone by saving money, lives, and the environment, as well as providing space and convenience.
Self driving cars will save people money by eliminating the need for car ownership and maintenance, as well as reducing society’s costs associated with cars. Research suggests that the average number of cars owned by a family will reduce from 2.1 to 1.2 (Forbes). The average cost for owning and maintaining a car today is $6,000 per year, or about $0.50 per mile compared to expected transportation costs of less than $0.10 per mile when shared self driving cars are used (AVIP). Companies such as Uber and Lyft could own self driving cars which would provide a very cheap way of travel. Self driving electric cars, that run on renewable energy, would cost very little to operate. Society will also save money with fewer cars on the road. If it gets to the point where an area is self driving cars only, lane lines and street signs could be eliminated, saving cities millions of dollars. Employees who work for the state would no longer have to repaint street lines or replace signs on a regular basis, therefore saving the city money by paying less hourly wages, as well as costs for the materials.
One of the biggest benefits of self driving cars will be reduced traffic accidents. Many car accidents that occur today are a result of human error, rather than issues with the automobile itself. Research has shown that the number of deaths in the United States caused by road accidents could be reduced by more than 90% by 2050 because of self driving cars. With approximately 40,000 fatal car crashes a year (Smith), that translates into 36,000 lives saved every year.
In addition to saving money and lives, self driving cars will increase ride sharing which will reduce traffic and air pollution. Many vehicles on the road today use gasoline or diesel to operate, which has led to the destruction of the ozone layer that protects humans from harmful levels of ultraviolet light. These harmful UV rays can be detrimental to health by creating eye cataracts, or even cancer. Researchers estimate that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced significantly which translates into the reduction of air pollution. Vehicle emissions contribute 30% to global warming so the decrease in vehicle use will be an important contribution to protecting our environment.
As self driving cars begin to be more popular, urban planners around the country are beginning to think about how they will restructure cities and change the way humans live. Self driving cars are going to have a major impact on how cities are constructed and managed. Self driving cars will allow cars to travel closer together, so they will take up less lane space. This extra lane space could be used to make the sidewalks or bike lanes bigger on the side of the roads. In addition, the number of parking lots, ramps and driveways could be reduced. Self driving cars are seen as a way to create space for people and not for cars.
Another way self driving cars will change people’s lives is by providing convenience. The elderly and disabled could have access to transportation that they didn’t have before, giving them new access to medical care, family and jobs. For example, people who suffer from vision impairment, that previously would have to wait for a bus or other modes of public transportation, could have access to their own vehicles. Not only does this save time, but also a safer way to travel. In addition, busy families could benefit by having a new way to get children to and from school, as well as activities.
Although there are many benefits to self driving cars, there are also challenges. Technology is advancing much farther than people ever thought, but there are still a lot of problems car manufacturers need to figure out before the majority of cars being sold are self driving. A problem that has consistently come up with self driving cars already is who is held responsible for accidents and injuries caused by self driving cars. That is something that needs to be figured out before the majority of cars being sold are self driving. There are still flaws in the technology that need to be overcome, including but not limited to how to handle extreme weather and disruptions in wireless service. The lack of technology that would inform the car of the weather could lead to an increase in accidents. Similarly, the disruption in wireless service not only makes the car unsafe, but could disrupt a major roadway causing a severe issue. Automakers have backed off on aggressive timelines to have self driving cars on the road because of their concerns over safety.
There are many benefits to self driving cars such as more space in cities for pedestrians, reduced number of traffic accidents, and a cheap and convenient way to travel. However before self driving cars can be institutionalized, a few things need to change such as flaws in the technology and laws about who is held responsible for injuries or crashes caused by self driving cars. Although we might not see self driving cars institutionalized for another 20-30 years, this is something society can look forward to in the future.