When TreeHugger first looked at self-driving cars in 2011 they didn't even have a name yet; I was part of a group studying them at the Institute without Boundaries, and we called them "sustainable mobility vehicles." We didn't see them hitting the road in quantity until 2040 but one thing was clear already: since cars are parked 90% of the time it made much more sense to share a self driving car than to own it. That meant we need a lot fewer cars; one shared car presently takes between 10 and 15 cars off the road.
In his new book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford looks at the impact of the self-driving car on the job market. An excerpt in Gizmodo raises some interesting points. He agrees that they will probably be shared, and points out some of the impacts:
If the sharing model does prevail, higher utilization for each car would, of course, mean fewer vehicles relative to the population. Environmentalists and urban planners would likely be overjoyed; [not necessarily so] automobile manufacturers not so much. Beyond the prospect of fewer cars per capita, there could also be a significant threat to luxury automotive brands. If you don’t own the car and will use it for only a single trip, you have little reason to care what make or model it is. Cars could cease to be status items, and the automobile market might well become commoditized.
He also points out how many people owe their jobs to cars, beyond the car dealers and repair shops that depend on big numbers of cars.
In the world that Google envisions, robotic cars will be concentrated into fleets. Maintenance, repair, insurance, and fueling would likewise be centralized. Untold thousands of small businesses, and the jobs associated with them, would evaporate. To get a sense of just how many jobs might be at risk, consider that, in Los Angeles alone, about 10,000 people work in car washes.
I am going to have to read this book, just to find out if my kids will ever have decent jobs. More on Gizmodo.
Insurance agents might also be casualties.Meanwhile, over at Fast Company, Ben Schiller writes about how the self-driving car might kill the car insurance industry. He quotes Warren Buffett:
"The truth is, if it's a safer way of driving, it's good for society and it's bad for our insurance business," Warren Buffett said recently when asked about the effect of automated vehicles (AVs) on his Geico subsidiary. "Anything that cuts accidents by 30%, 40%, 50% would be wonderful, but we would not be holding a party at our insurance company."
That's because driverless cars are expected to prevent 90% of accidents.