Will Driverless Cars be Good for Society?

There are an incredible number of statistics out there regarding the likely positive benefits of driverless cars on society.  Here are a few examples:

  • “The spread of driverless cars will likely greatly reduce the number of traffic accidents – which currently cost Americans $871 billion per year.” (Source)
  • “Their promise to eliminate the need to drive around for parking, which Roland Berger estimates causes 30 percent of congestion in urban areas, could also significantly cut down on traffic.” (Source)
  • According to the MIT Media Lab, city drivers use 40 percent of their fuel searching for a parking spot.” (Source)
  • Without [having to design roads for humans], the United States could significantly reduce the more than $75 billion it spends annually on roads, highways, bridges, and other infrastructure. (Source)
  • An insurance expert has said that premiums could fall “dramatically” if driverless cars become widespread. (Source)

As I tried to gather these quotes, I was surprised to find I had just as many quotes regarding negative consequences:

  • “Increased sharing could mean Americans would own 43 percent fewer cars (from 2.1 to 1.2 vehicles per household) but use them 75 percent more (from 11,661 to 20,406 annual miles per vehicle)… The net effect is probably going to be an increase in mileage, and in general the more miles you drive the more fuel you burn.” (Source)
  • “If we want riding in a driverless car to be as comfortable as riding in a train, we need to consider the possibility that more traffic will be the result. (Source)
  • “Many of the nation’s 240,000 taxi drivers and 1.6 million truck drivers48 could be displaced by AV technologies” (Source)

Is that all true?  Should we believe it?  It’s difficult to really understand how researchers and reporters came to their conclusions; however, I’m pretty sure that the assumptions around these studies have significant variations.  Imagine trying to regulate all of this before we even know what this world could look like?!

About Lauren Isaac

I am the Manager of Transportation Sustainability at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Recently, I won the William Barclay Parsons fellowship for my research proposal to study how the United States government should respond to driverless cars. As I'm working on my research, I thought this blog would help to disseminate my findings and provide a forum for feedback.
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