The Good, the Bad, and the Inevitable
As personal injury lawyers, we see the devastating impact of auto accidents upon individuals’ lives each day. The arrival of self-driving technology brings with it the promise of safer roadways and fewer accidents, but it also presents challenges to numerous U.S. industries — including auto insurance, commercial transport, and personal injury litigation. So, besides safety, what other benefits do self-driving cars offer? How badly will they affect jobs in the United States? And when will they actually be here to use? This article aims to answer those frequently asked questions.
What is the Benefit of Self-Driving Technology?
With the world seeming to progress at lightning speed in technological advancement, it bears asking – is this new technology helpful, or are we creating merely to create? While self-driving technology presents challenges, the benefits it offers to society are undeniable.
There are about 30,000 fatal accidents in the United States every year. When one considers alcohol, texting, or road rage, it is no surprise that 95% of fatal accidents are the result of human error. Experts predict that self-driving vehicles will nearly eliminate those fatalities and dramatically reduce the number of non-fatal accidents.
With self-driving comes ride-sharing. Gone will be the days of individual vehicle ownership. Instead, consumers will summon a self-driving car whenever needed – much like Uber and Lyft, except no humans required. Widespread ride-sharing will allow seniors to retain independence and provide accessible transportation for the disabled and other individuals who could not otherwise drive (including your kids who need to get to soccer practice while you are stuck at work).
Ask any regular train commuter, and she will tell you why she prefers public transit to driving — “I can get work done.” Self-driving cars will allow individuals to use their full commute time to finish a presentation, respond to emails, or simply fit in a much-needed power nap. Added benefit: decreased stress and less road rage.
Will Self-Driving Cars Take Away Jobs?
Automated technology poses a threat to human jobs, and self-driving cars are no exception. Some of the more obvious jobs threatened by self-driving technology include truck drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, and body shop mechanics. Perhaps not so obvious, however, is the impact self-driving technology will have on other commercial industries, including auto insurance and personal injury litigation. Those professions depend on the existence of auto accidents and resulting injuries. As the motor vehicle accident rate approaches 0%, and fewer individuals own their own vehicle, consumers will find it difficult to justify spending hundreds of dollars per year on auto insurance premiums. Indeed, some experts predict that the entire model of auto insurance will soon become archaic.
When Will Self-Driving Cars Become Universal?
The short answer: sooner than you think. The long answer requires understanding each self-driving technology “phase,” of which there are four. Phase 1 of self-driving technology refers to “passive autonomy, ” and it already exists throughout the consumer market. Examples include blind spot warnings, automatic wipers, backup warnings, and driver-initiated cruise control. Phase 2 refers to “limited driving substitution.” Examples include assistive parallel parking and self-braking. Many Phase 2 features have already become standard in today’s vehicles.
Phase 3 refers to “complete autonomous capability” – meaning the vehicle can completely drive itself, but a human must sit behind the steering wheel to intervene if necessary. While Phase 3 vehicles have yet to reach the mass consumer market, several technology companies, including Google and Uber, have developed and are currently operating Phase 3 vehicles throughout the country. Finally, Phase 4 refers to “100% autonomous penetration.” Phase 4 requires no human interaction and is fully sensor driven. Phase 4 vehicles will have no steering wheel, pedals, or mirrors. All of the driving will be controlled by a computer, utilizing a combination of sensors, the internet, and GPS technology. Many experts predict that Phase 3 vehicles will become fairly universal within the next 10-15 years, with Phase 4 autonomy following soon after that. Of course, that timing depends on legislative regulation and consumer acceptance.