The already graceful Tesla was moving effortlessly around – as most do – twisting and turning with ease as the driver sat back and relaxed. The car changed lanes, adjusted its speed, and parked, all by itself, with the push of a button.
It was 2018, and Tesla Motors had released a video of a driverless car, completely in command, offering a glimpse into our future.
Today, the push for driverless cars has snowballed, and companies are racing to be the first one to get these cars safely on the road.
Many estimates say that by 2040, 33 million “autonomous vehicles” will be sold annually, exploding the driverless car market to $7 trillion.
With the anticipation of this budding market, experts are weighing in on what these cars will mean for consumer safety, the transportation industry at large, and our relationship to driving and cars in general.
Firstly, it’s important to mention that autonomous vehicles are expected to save 30,000 lives every year, adding up to millions of lives saved worldwide.
Although the driverless cars now being made aren’t perfect yet, researchers say they’re close. Researchers from the Rand Corporation estimated that if these vehicles were allowed on public roads now, they would be nearly perfect at driving by 2035, and “…90% safer than today’s human drivers.”
There are already driverless cars on the road, of course, including a ridesharing service called Waymo that is currently available in Phoenix, AZ. Safety drivers are riding along in Waymo’s vehicles (for now) to ensure that all goes well.
The future appears to be clear: driverless ridesharing, driverless delivery services, driverless autos. Yet, there is still hesitation around the impact of driverless cars on traffic.
According to a study conducted by the U.K Department of Transport, driverless cars will increase traffic after first being introduced. One reason, researchers say that will happen, is because these vehicles will initially be operating very cautiously. Researchers suspect that traffic won’t go back down until all cars are driving autonomously.
Other critics of driverless cars come from advocacy groups, like Upstate Transportation Association, who are protecting professional drivers. This group, in particular, is advocating for a ban of driverless cars in the state of New York for 50 years with the hope of protecting the jobs of professional drivers in the area.
On a personal level, there is some apprehension concerning how driverless cars will change the way we think about “individual transport.” For many, driving is a therapeutic experience that connects them to their vehicle. Automobile brands and cultural watchers are keen to see how autonomous cars change that connection. Will Andrews of Singularity Hub notes, “across a number of technologies, more and more people have sought analog experiences as digital has grown.” Brands like Jaguar and Land Rover are framing the autonomous vehicle as a way to, “…enhance the driver’s experience – not replace it.”
Change of any kind is difficult to accept. A seismic shift in an industry like transportation is akin to revolutionary. The promise of saving lives, lessening traffic, and decreasing the environmental impact of cars means that it’s time to get on board and maximize this technology.