Tech journalists frequently discuss the most obvious ways self-driving cars could change the world, with lower accident rates, more free time, and less congestion on roadways, but there are many more—and less obvious—ways that self-driving cars could change the world. There are rumors that the first fully autonomous cars could be available in the next couple of years, but it’s more likely that true self-driving vehicles could hit the streets sometime near the end of the decade. We need to start preparing ourselves for the impact they may have on our daily lives if we’re going to respond the right way.
The Unexpected Changes
These are some of the least-commonly talked about ways that self-driving cars could change the world:
- Post-accident behavior and recovery. First, self-driving cars are going to change how we respond to accidents. It’s highly unlikely that autonomous vehicles will be able to reduce the collision rate to zero, especially in the first few years following their introduction to mainstream consumers. Accordingly, we’ll find it difficult to determine who’s at fault in an auto accident that results in an injury; is it the person who owns the at-fault car? Is it the automaker? Is it the designer of the software? Or the person who caused a change in conditions at the scene? This could make liability and justice much more complicated topics.
- Abuse of self-driving algorithms. Self-driving cars will be programmed to avoid hitting pedestrians at all costs, but savvy pedestrians could easily take advantage of this, confidently walking in front of self-driving cars even if they don’t have the right of way, knowing they aren’t going to be hit. This would result in traffic flow problems and could increase the risk of injury or death for overconfident pedestrians.
- Portable businesses. The emergence of cheap, autonomous forms of travel will give rise to a number of portable businesses. Professionals will see autonomous driving as far less expensive than owning or leasing an office building, and will opt to visit their clients in person, or deliver their services remotely. Accordingly, more people will be able to work from home, without an office, and deliveries and home visits will become exceedingly common.
- A surplus of older cars. If self-driving cars are superior in nearly every way, including safety, efficiency, and legal compliance, what are we going to do with all the older cars that still have years, if not decades of useful life ahead of them? This could lead to more consumers holding onto cars they never use, or could put additional pressure on the recycling industry, forcing them to increase their capacity to keep up with new demand.
- Motion sickness. It’s estimated that 6 to 12 percent of all consumers could experience motion sickness while riding in a self-driving car, which is a significant figure. This is going to make it difficult for some people to engage with the new vehicles emerging to the market, and force self-driving vehicle developers to find new solutions to reach those audiences.
- Labor demand changes. Currently, 1.4 million United States citizens are employed as truck drivers, and that’s not counting the millions of people driving taxis, driving for ridesharing services, or driving as chauffeurs. Once self-driving cars have developed enough to replace or displace those positions, we could see a dramatic change in the labor market. Former drivers will be forced to develop higher-level skills, or may be forced to change industries entirely, resulting in massive changes for the economy overall.
- Wasteful behavior. Jevons paradox illustrates that once an efficient way to use resources is introduced, it could actually result in the usage of more resources. For example, technological progress on efficient coal usage resulted in an increased consumption of coal, since it made so much economic sense to use it. In the context of self-driving cars, once self-driving vehicles are commonplace an inexpensive, people may rely on them for everything, including automating their errands or traveling more frequently. This could actually lead to such increased demand that it results in more traffic and congestion—not less.
How Should We Prepare?
If we anticipate these problems, there are several ways we can prepare for them in advance. We can design self-driving cars in a way that circumvents these problems, monitor and change our own behavior as individuals, or introduce new laws that protect against or guide consumers through the potential issues here.
But the most important thing we can do is remain vigilant and observant. It’s impossible to predict exactly how self-driving cars will change the world, but if we watch their development carefully, and introduce them gradually, we’ll buy ourselves enough time to react and plan appropriately.