From quick trips to the grocery store to cross-country adventures, we use our cars to get us where we need and want to go. But what happens when our cars get us there on their own?
All the leading car manufacturers are jumping on the driverless car bandwagon and are pledging to have autonomous systems in the works by at least 2020. If researchers’ projections are right, urban landscapes have the potential to evolve significantly in conjunction with the increase of driverless cars.
Presently, our vehicles release approximately 333 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on a yearly basis. Driverless cars have the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
Because the cars will likely be programmed to drive efficiently, acceleration, braking, and speed variation will be able to be monitored. Fuel efficiency can then increase, which could lead to a decrease in carbon emissions.
Most driverless cares will also probably be electric. Our cleaner atmosphere could better the lives of people with lung and heart conditions, as well as aid in improving climate change.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were over six million police-reported crashes in 2015. Every year that number rises. Of those crashes, 32,539 of them were fatal, leading to the needless deaths of 35,485 people.
Properly programmed and maintained driverless cars have the potential to remove human error and intoxicated drivers, and significantly reduce the number of accidents and fatalities. The Eno Center for Transportation projects that the number of accidents could decrease significantly to just over one million a year if 90 percent of the cars on the road were autonomous. Accidents involving driverless vehicles will still happen and even happen while the technology is currently being tested, the overall numbers should be much lower.
Fewer car accidents are something to hope for; however, it could lead to fewer organ donations. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 percent of organ donations come from car accident victims. While this decline has potential consequences, researchers and scientists are looking at ways to engineering artificial organs.
An Influx in Free Time
Americans have some of the longest work weeks in the world, in terms of the number of hours worked. Many report working 60 hours a week or more. If you also consider how the average commute time is on the rise, people don’t have much downtime. The lack of free time can negatively impact stress levels, which can affect mental, physical, and social wellbeing.
Driverless cars would give employees established free time in their day. While some people might use that time to continue working, other could benefit from it by simply reading, sleeping, or relaxing in whatever way they choose. They could start learning a second language or even just catch up on their favorite shows.
While there are those of us who can zip around in our vehicles whenever we choose, a portion of the population is unable to drive for one reason or another. Those reasons are often related to age or health.
Driverless cars have the potential to change the lives of millions of people who are unable to drive. People who previously felt stifled by their age or disability would be able to gain a new sense of freedom and independence.
Individuals with visual or auditory impairments would be able to confidently and comfortably transport themselves without assistance. Elderly people could run their own errands and visit friends without waiting for a family member or transportation system. Tweens and teens might even have the ability to get to soccer practice on their own without having to wait for their guardians.
Job Market Changes
Many professions rely on transporting people, services, and goods from one place to the next. With a shift to driverless cars, traditional transportation systems and mechanics, car dealerships, food delivery services, and many more careers would likely become obsolete.
On the flip side, new tech jobs would need to emerge to manage automation, develop and update software, focus on safety for riders and pedestrians, and repair and maintain the vehicles. This means a variety of new jobs in the technology field would need to emerge, so the driverless infrastructure could be maintained and grow with the needs of its riders.
While the future can’t be predicted with 100 percent accuracy, these changes seem realistic when thinking about the impact of autonomous vehicles on our cities. Who knows, there may come a time when traffic jams are nonexistent, driver’s tests are obsolete, and lives aren’t needlessly claimed in car accidents.