Self-driving technology is exciting for some people and depressing for others. The sooner full self-driving cars hit the street, the better for some people and for others, that’s the beginning of their doomsday.
As self-driving technology that requires no human supervision and intervention gets developed, the age-old question remains.
What are the benefits (pros) and harmful effects (cons) of self-driving cars?
Should we celebrate or fear its development?
What do we stand to gain or lose with its development?
It’s simple to say that self-driving cars will be beneficial and it’s equally difficult to hide the fact that they will come with lots of cons.
In this article, we will be exploring the pros and cons of full self-driving cars. Anticipating that the information helps shape/guide your thinking towards self-driving technology.
Pros (Benefits) of Self-driving Cars/Vehicles
Self-driving cars are exciting because they come with lots of benefits for everybody.
Here are some benefits of self-driving cars (a tip of the iceberg):
1. Reduces the rate of Road Accident
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, “Nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year and an additional 20 – 50 million are injured or disabled”.
The World Health Organization approximates the number of death as a result of road accidents to 1.35million people each year.
Even though 93% of the world’s fatalities on the road occur in low and middle-income countries; everybody is affected.
In the United States, for instance, road crashes are the single greatest annual cause of death of healthy US citizens traveling abroad (asirt.org).
But how will self-driving cars greatly reduce these rates?
According to a 2016 NHTSA Fatality Report, “Human errors cause 94 percent of all motor vehicle crashes”.
That’s an eye-opener, right?
This simply means by removing humans from the driving process, self-driving cars are eliminating 94% of the cause of road accidents; basically speaking.
2. Reduce the cost of transportation
The cost of transportation is relatively high, especially in the United States. The average American spends roughly 13% of their household expenditure on transportation alone.
Ride-hailing/sharing services have helped a lot of us cut down the cost of transportation.
And experts have touted ride-hailing/sharing to be the future of road transportation.
The major factor leading to the high cost of transportation especially in the US is car ownership.
The average American owns 2.28 cars (at least two cars).
The bulk of transportation costs is spread across vehicle purchasing and other vehicle expenditures like vehicle insurance and maintenance costs.
Ride-hailing/sharing services are gaining more ground than ever. In 2019, Uber (a ride-hailing company) alone completed almost 7 billion rides.
But, ride-hailing services are failing us. The lack of privacy in ride-sharing puts a big question mark on it. And ride-hailing that offers greater promise I failing to deliver on its promise of cheap and easy travel.
A major part of this problem is that ride-hailing services, like Uber, are struggling to stay profitable because of the amount of money they pay human drivers.
And so, they are forced to increase their prices to stay marginally profitable. Again, self-driving cars or should I say driverless cars eliminates the issue (amount of money paid to human drivers). And makes future ride-hailing a lot cheaper and feasible.
3. Creates a new stream of job opportunities
Studies have shown that self-driving vehicles have the potential to widely create job opportunities. Postings for self-driving jobs are increasing year over year, according to Ziprecruiter.
Billions of US Dollars has been powered into the self-driving industry and it’s a no-brainer that this precedent is creating a new stream of job opportunities.
4. Offer greater mobility independence for people with disability
It’s incredibly difficult for people with certain kinds of disabilities to get around.
Existing transportation technologies are yet to make it easy for people with disabilities (like blinds and paralyzed). Self-driving offers great promise for people with such disabilities.
It will not just enable them to move around easily, it will also enable them to do so without being dependent on humans.
In the United States alone, more than 57 million people, have a disability that’s approximately one in every five persons. The number of disabled struggling to get the transportation they need affordably is really high.
Hence, the benefits of self-driving technologies cannot be over-emphasized.
5. Reduces Traffic Congestion
If you live in a densely populated area, then you must have had firsthand experience of frustrating traffic congestion.
In some areas, it will take hours to get to a destination that would normally take minutes. Trust me, I have experienced it, and share the frustration.
According to INRIX, Americans lost 97 hours in congestion, which costs the country $87 billion annually in time, an average of $1,348 per driver.
Time is money.
If we cast our eyes on specific cities, the number is even more alarming.
Mumbai, Bogota, and Moscow for instance have 65%, 63%, and 56% congestion respectively.
A National Science Foundation study reveals that having a single self-driving car on the road can reduce congestion by influencing the traffic flow of at least 20 human-controlled automobiles around it.
The researchers found that self-driving cars can control traffic flow by dissipating the stop-and-go waves accustomed to human driving in congestion.
Arguably, self-driving cars can control traffic flow far better, and if most cars on the road are self-driving, they will reduce traffic congestion significantly.
6. Alleviate parking troubles
The search for parking space is really painful and frustrating. In fact, the bigger the city, the more likely, the bigger the parking trouble.
US drivers spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for parking spots.
The search for parking costs Americans $73 billion a year, according to INRIX.
In Westwood Village, a shopping strip in Los Angeles, consumers spend approximately 95,000 hours each year searching for parking.
95,000 hours is approximately 11 years spent circling for parking space.
This is another problem that self-driving cars can help alleviate.
A passenger can drop at his destination, go about his/her business and leave the self-driving car to handle the business (trouble) of parking.
7. Will drastically cut down vehicle insurance cost
In the US, the average cost of car insurance is $1,457 per year. To put things in perspective, in 2019, the median household income in the US was $63,030.
Ignoring the fact that the average American owns 2 or more cars, car insurance cost alone eats up an estimated 2.3% of an American’s household income.
Self-driving vehicles will eliminate much of the risk drivers face today and this will dramatically reduce the cost of premiums that insurance companies give out.
According to Accenture’s Global Head of Insurance Practice, John Cusano, “insurers are bracing for long-term declines in auto premium as new and safer autonomous vehicles gain adoption”.
They better be, because whether they (insurers) like it or not, self-driving cars will force them to cut auto insurance cost significantly.
8. They will reduce car theft
In 2017, nearly $6 billion was lost to motor vehicle theft in the US alone according to the FBI. Even though car theft is somewhat on the downward trend, over 700,000 vehicles were stolen in 2018; and that’s a lot.
Self-driving vehicles will drastically reduce the rate of car theft, simply because they are somewhat aware of what happens around them.
Tesla vehicles powered by Autopilot and advanced security features that will in further advancements form the core of its self-driving vehicles are currently about 90% less likely to be stolen than the average car, according to a report from the Highway Loss Data Institute.
Tesla vehicles in sentry mode are capable of observing their surroundings and notify their owners and any individual closer to the vehicle in the unlikely event that a theft is in progress.
Advanced Self-driving cars will do far more than Tesla sentry mode.
9. Additional Source of Income for Car Owners
There are currently so many ways car owners are making money with their cars. Some of these ways are to deliver packages, give rides, haul tuffs and rent their cars.
As you might have noticed most of these ways require an active commitment, except renting. However, self-driving car owners can make money from all these ways passively (without having to be actively involved).
While you go about your normal 9-5, your self-driving car is out there working and making more money for you.
That’s simply promising.
Most self-driving vehicles will be electric and even when they are not electric, they will potentially emit less carbon than normally with human drivers.
According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), self-driving cars could reduce the energy consumption rate by 90% – 200%.
Currently, almost all self-driving car companies are developing electric self-driving cars and there is seemingly no going back on that trend.
According to a study by the University of California, Davis, if automated vehicles are electrified and shared, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by as much as 80% by 2050.
Most AVs will be EVs, and when most vehicles are AVs carbon emissions will receive a heavy upper-cut punch.
Cons (Harmful Effects) of Self-driving cars/vehicles
As many of us get excited about the potentials of self-driving cars, it is worth noting that they have harmful effects.
Self-driving vehicles in many ways are harmful (disadvantageous).
Here are some of the cons of self-driving cars:
1. Takes away millions of job
This is one of the obvious disadvantages of self-driving cars.
Forget Uber and Lift drivers that will lose their jobs because of self-driving cars. There is approximately 3.5 million professional truck driver in the United States alone. If trucks become fully autonomous, those 3.5 million truck drivers are going to lose their jobs.
Now, remember Uber, there are currently 3 million Uber drivers globally and the number is trending upwards, with self-driving cars, these Uber drivers are going to have to look for another job.
2. Increases threat from hackers
This is a major cause of concern. As we hand over the wheels of our cars to a computer system, the chances of indirectly handing them over to hackers increases.
In 2015, Charlie Miller and Chris Valaslc remotely hacked a Jeep Cherokee via its internet connection and paralyses it on a highway. Miller had previously worked at NSA, Twitter, and Uber.
Miller said that “cars are already insecure, and you’re adding a bunch of sensors and computers that are controlling them… If a bad guy gets control of that, it’s going to be even worse”.
Indeed, it’s going to be even worse.
3. Prone to making life-threatening error
It’s expected that self-driving cars are potentially going to drastically cut down the rate of accidents due to human error.
But self-driving technologies are not deemed as error-free: they are prone to making mistakes. Mistakes that could take a human life.
In March 2018, a self-driving car operated by Uber struck and killed a woman in Arizona. The victim was the first recorded case of a pedestrian fatality involving a self-driving car. And a reminder that autonomous cars (even though they are currently experimental) are prone to errors.
Generally and currently, it’s hard to trust autonomous systems fully with the life of human passengers.
The Boeing Autopilot system that has led to the loss of hundreds of lives (passengers and crew) testifies to the fact that autonomous systems are not perfect.
They can err.
4. Expensive to Own
Overall, according to lendingtree.com, Americans owe more than $1.2 trillion in auto loan debt. Auto debt makes up 9.5% of American consumer debt.
Owing normal cars are expensive and it’s causing a lot of people to swim in debt.
The emergence of self-driving cars might require people to ditch their present cars, in an attempt to acquire thee driverless cars. But the impending reality is that self-driving cars with all their promise will be expensive to own.
According to Esurance, the fully autonomous tech could add at least $100,000 to the price of a vehicle.
An additional $100,000.
5. Risks from Narrow Adoption
The reality is that the magic of self-driving cars can only be experienced fully if there is broad adoption of these cars.
One or two self-driving cars on the roads cannot make much of a difference. There is a reasonable concern that self-driving cars may not be broadly adopted.
Perhaps because it’s expensive, people are afraid of its possibility to err or be hacked.
The reality is that to reap the benefits of self-driving cars, they need to be widely adopted.
6. Privacy concern
Adrienne Lafrance wrote on The Atlantic that “Automated vehicles will learn everything about you”. That’s a bold claim.
Although Lafrance exaggerated by writing that “Automated vehicles will learn ‘everything’”, self-driving vehicles (automated vehicles) will learn quite a lot of things about their passengers. And that’s worrying.
Privacy breaches have been a major concern of modern technology because it’s really that bad.
Even the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, couldn’t prevent himself from these privacy breaches. What then can me and you do?
With self-driving vehicles, there are a lot of looming privacy issues.
Self-driving vehicles will be able to collect a lot of passengers’ personal information. The obvious one, is perhaps, location data.
Self-driving cars will come with location-tracking features that will be a major concern. They will also be able to collect an array of owner/passenger information.
One more thing to note is that because self-driving vehicles can collect information from their environment, they could also be used to track non-passengers.
7. Will deliver a great blow to the Auto and Auto Insurance Industry
It is certain that self-driving cars will shake industries, but the Auto and Auto insurance industry could see the most shakeup.
With the auto insurance industry, the major expectation is that insurance premiums will drop as accidents become rarer.
And the major question is, when accidents involving self-driving cars occur, who will be liable for the damages?
The owner or the manufacturer?
As for the Auto industry, a lot of traditional automakers are going to be eventually sidelined. And perhaps the future of auto-making may lie in the hands of companies like Waymo, Tesla, and GM Cruise.
8. Increased Dependence on Technology
When self-driving cars gain broad adoption, it will obviously increase our dependence on technology. In fact, it’s quite alarming to think that the next two generations or so, may not know how to drive a vehicle. Because they will not need to learn how to drive.
Of course, technologies like self-driving technology are developed to help humanity, but countless researches have shown that over-dependence on technology comes with a lot of cons.
Over depending on technology like self-driving technology implies that passengers risk their lives to the decisions of a machine.
After all, self-driving vehicles are machines.
I once read that too much usage of anything makes users its slave.
9. Issues regulating self-driving cars
Failure to correctly regulate self-driving vehicles is going to result in a major legal issue and could come with greater consequences.
Boeing was self-regulating when they developed and deployed the Boeing Autopilot system that has led to the loss of hundreds of human lives.
One thing to note is that even though Boeing was self-regulating, the fact is that they regulated. Albeit, the improperly regulated the development and deployment of the technology.
Like with Boeing Autopilot, there is going to be a major regulating of self-driving cars. And if regulations are not properly administered, the consequences could be grave.