Despite the recent pair of fatal crashes involving self-driving cars, there’s wide agreement that autonomous vehicles will sharply reduce the number of people who die in motor vehicle accidents. In the U.S. alone, traffic accidents claim more than 30,000 lives a year; experts say that by the middle of this century, that toll could fall by up to 90 percent.
Eventually, driverless cars will take human motorists out of the equation entirely. When that happens, fewer traffic fatalities will be only the most obvious consequence. Because automobiles are so central to our society and national economy — and so much a part of everyday life — the switch to autonomous vehicles is likely to alter our lives in strange and remarkable ways.
“I think we’re going to be really surprised by how many things change,” says Dr. Chris Gerdes, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University.
Here’s a peek at what a future filled with driverless cars could look like.
1. We’ll be less likely to own a car
Driverless cars may not end America’s long-running love affair with the automobile. But with fleets of autonomous vehicles offering low-cost, convenient transportation that can be summoned in minutes, fewer people may want to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to own and maintain their own vehicle.
2. Urban centers will evolve
Since driverless cars will move with greater precision than human-driven vehicles, streets could be narrower, with more space set aside for pedestrians and cyclists, according to a report issued last fall by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
3. Businesses will come to us
The same technologies used in driverless cars will also show up in vans and trucks — vehicles large enough to be used as mobile offices, stores, and the like. So rather than having customers come to their locations, retailers and other businesses may start taking their goods and services directly to customers.
4. More people will be able to live independently
Driverless cars promise to transform the lives of people who have trouble getting around because of illness, old age, or disability.
5. Donor organs could be in short supply
About 13 percent of the organs made available for donation in recent years came from people who died in car crashes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When driverless cars are the norm and few people are dying on the road, there may be a shortage of hearts, livers, and other donor organs.
6. People will rethink their living arrangements
It’s no secret that commuting to work by car is stressful, especially over long distances or in heavy traffic. But once commuters are no longer required to drive and are able instead to read, sleep, or simply relax on their way to and from work, even long commutes may seem acceptable, researchers from the MIT Center for Real Estate predicted in a 2017 report on trends in real estate in the U.S.
But given that urban centers will become more livable, the report states that other workers will choose to skip suburbia and instead move into city centers — where they could walk or bike to work.
What do you think? In what ways do you think driverless cars will change your life?