Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Pros & Cons Of Driverless Cars

Totally coincidentally to this week's news, I stumbled on a page that said the following:

"The Texas Transportation Institute estimates that in 2000, the 75 largest metropolitan areas experienced 3.6 billion vehicle hours of delay, resulting in 5.7 billion gallons in wasted fuel and $67.5 billion in lost productivity."

A quick calculation suggests that that's about 0.7% of America's GDP. What struck me most about reading that was a somewhat unrelated thought that has become more topical this week - that one thing those statistics show is just how tremendously beneficial driverless cars are going to be to humans and to the environment, as many of the costs in time and pollution will be eradicated. No doubt this will be expedited by the government's latest desire to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

What will driverless cars be like?
It seems fairly certain that future cars will have computers that can drive more safely resourcefully and efficiently than we can, with far fewer queues and a reduction in hold ups. Drink-driving won't be an issue, nor will tiredness at the wheel. Gone will be the car insurance industry, and the driving school industry, and there'll probably be no need for car ownership either, as technology devices and advanced algorithms will probably be able to satisfy any customer's need for a ride to any destination any time they need one. 

Journey times will be shorter, as self-driving cars will be able to whizz around within inches of each other under precise computational commands, thereby removing the need for traffic lights, roundabouts or stopping at junctions. Bear in mind, though, those gains in journey times will need to be offset against increased road usage, because when self-driving cars offer more benefits than trains, I'd excect there to be more road users making more journeys in driverless cars.

But there is something else to consider here. For many, car ownership is something of a status symbol, and for many others there is genuine enjoyment in driving, particularly if you have a fast car. It's possible that those could be the two things that delay the transition from all human-driving cars to all computer-driving cars. Status-mongering in the driverless car industry will largely be confined to what kind of car you can afford to hire - which may not be much of a status symbol anyway if taxis are anything to go by.

Other than that, when it does eventually happen in a widespread fashion, the gains are going to be immense - and the next generation born thereafter, and all subsequent generations thereafter still, are never going to know what it was like for us to live in a society in which we got to drive ourselves, went fast if we wanted to, and had to do things like purchase car insurance, queue in traffic jams and look for parking spaces.