Autonomous vehicles – the quicker they arrive on our roads, the better

Llew Cross

by Llew Cross

What would a world with autonomous vehicles look like?

First and most importantly of all, the death toll on our roads will plummet. Why? Around 90% of accidents are caused by human error. Already new crash avoidance systems are saving lives. Autonomous vehicles remove the unpredictability of human drivers and they are quicker to react to changes in road conditions. A reduced road toll means reduced insurance premiums to individuals and reduced costs on the healthcare system due to care of persons injured in crashes.

Congestion will be eased. Imagine a city with no traffic. It sounds absurd. Traffic jams, congested roads and long commute times are so ingrained in so many people’s lives that it seems hard to imagine a world without it. Autonomous vehicles will be able to communicate with each other to allow traffic to flow smoothly and cars to merge without stabbing the brakes to avoid an accident.

Fuel costs will be reduced and emissions lowered due to more efficient and quicker travel. Cars will spend less time on the roads. You may not even own a car yourself. You may own a share in a company that has 10 or 100 or 1000 cars. Along with other shareholders you have the ability to call on any of the cars that your membership supplies access to. Your yearly membership fee would cover fuel, insurance, registration and any other costs that your car may incur. You will never have to pay for parking fees or fines as your car will always be in use. By sharing vehicles between individuals, the cost of access to transportation is lowered for everyone. You will never have to drop it off at a depot though because it can drive itself to the next destination.

Policing road rules will become a thing of the past. Our police can then focus on more pressing matters like protecting life, liberty and property. Cars will never speed and no one will ever drink drive again. Policing them will become unnecessary. No more breathalysers and no more speed cameras hiding in cars on the side of the road. No more revenue raising at the expense of motorists by state governments. Government also won’t need to take money off you every year for your license. You won’t be driving so you no longer need a license. The registration of your car will cover the cost of road upkeep as it does today.

Your travel time is also free to be use as you please. As you no longer need to physically guide the vehicle to your destination, you can get started on work or prepare for a meeting, you can chat to your children and friends, you can entertain guests or you can sleep if it’s a long journey to your destination.

Autonomous vehicles will be another step on the journey towards prosperity, allowing us to use our time in ever more valuable ways while reducing costs to consumers and users. They will provide lower emissions, more efficient use of resources, fewer cars on the road, shared costs between many willing users, safer travel and reduced costs for users.

This bright future is coming and there is little that can be done to stop it. We can’t predict the exact form the industry will take. Millions of consumers voting with their feet and wallets will determine that. The biggest barrier to this prosperity is government, as shown when California regulators revoked registration of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. Instead of showing what human ingenuity can achieve and becoming a leading light for all cities willing to adopt life-, time- and money-saving innovations, the California DMV has instead decided to once again slow progress down. UK regulatory bodies can learn from their mistakes, and make everyone’s lives better by making it easy for autonomous vehicles to become an exciting new addition to our future.


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Josh Collins - About 101 days ago

You had me up until "Policing road rules will become a thing of the past". People still break laws when things are automated. They just do it from behind a computer screen. People would still speed, cut corners, etc. One question might be whether or not we would still have a speed limit.

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Llew Cross - About 93 days ago

The point of autonomous vehicles would be to replace humans driving. I'm uncertain why you would buy an autonomous vehicle only to want to try and drive it yourself so you could break a speed limit. The vehicle will be a better driver than most any commuter, due to the lack of blind spots due to all the cameras and sensors, the speed at which it can interpret data and changes in conditions, and the possibility of communication between vehicles to streamline flows. You would be trading a safer, faster, easier commute for one that requires you to take control of a car with eventually no steering wheel, clutch, brakes or accelerator via a computer. Seems like an unrealistic and unreasonable objection to the idea of autonomous vehicles.

Interesting you bring up whether we would have a speed limit. There is scope for speed limits to be increased especially on freeways/highways etc. Even in town they could be marginally increased. It is obviously best to do this on a location by location basis. I'm guessing there will eventually be an expansion of large roads with no speed limits as seen in various locations.

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Paul Perrin - About 101 days ago

A good article - some points that occur to me...

Eliminating 'human error' is fine, but is bound to be replaced by some increased level of machine error.

Insurance prices are set as high as the insurers think they can get away with - they'll have no reason to cut premiums. Better, the government can do away with any need for insurance (as the vehicles will be so safe, why would it be needed?).

As for government-income/driver-expense being cut... no, the government will take it in other ways, using other excuses- they always do.

Let police focus on other issues? No just sack those no longer needed!

Finally beware liberty - if the route planning software isn't open source, those who control it can sell priority/fast routes etc and put anyone they fancy to the back of the queue...

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Anonymous - About 99 days ago

You miss several other implications including:

First, they won't cover non-urban areas. Try getting an uber outside of London - you can't. There isn't, and won't be, the same economies of scale in the countryside as found in cities.

Second, it wipes out jobs whilst the profits accrue to a handful of private companies. Instead of drivers working their way up & themselves becoming small businesses owners there will only be a handful (perhaps one?) global taxi company paying taxes nowhere.

Third, just like amazon who is now about to open grocery stores, what do you think happens to the prices a private company charges once it has wiped out the competition?

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Llew Cross - About 93 days ago

People will still be able to own their own autonomous vehicle. You could use that to visit non-urban areas. My suggestion was simply one way that one part of the market might operate.

Yes there will be less need for drivers in the future. This is a good thing. They can move into more productive areas of employment. In Australia due to restriction on taxi license plates, they were known to sell for up to $400000 AUD. Imagine if an entrepreneur invested in a few autonomous vehicles instead of one taxi license. In which situation do you think the small business person will be better off? With one taxi that they have to drive or with a few vehicles that can work around the clock?

If a private company wipes out the competition there are two options. They can keep prices low to keep a market monopoly. Or they can gouge prices off consumers.
If a company keeps it prices low, good. I assume you don't have a problem with a business supplying low cost quality goods to individuals? The other option is increases in prices to gouge consumers. What happens when consumers are price-gouged? Either they don't value the service and therefore they don't use it anymore, or more likely, new producers enter the market, increase competition and therefore reduce prices. That is what I think happens when a private company has wiped out the competition in a free market (look to any free market where no or minimal barriers to entry haven't been erected by government and you will see low cost, quality goods and services offered. The same will happen here)

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