Friday, 14 October 2016

The shifting sands of self-drive cars

I read a post recently on Medium by David Silver, who works at the Ford Motor Company.

He was agreeing with a WSJ report of Elon Musk saying that it was unlikely that non-self-drive cars would be banned. David said "Modern vehicles are designed to last 10–20 years, and car manufacturers are having record years, so lots of consumers are buying cars today that will last until 2025 or 2030. Those consumers aren’t going to let governments ban their vehicles from the road, and retrofitting those vehicles will be prohibitively expensive for many people". He then went on to say that he anticipated "a network of 'autonomous only roads', kind of like an Interstate Highway system for self-driving cars".

However, I think that there are other factors at play that will force a change, that are not related to cars themselves. I left the following comment for David:
I am wondering if your piece has missed considering some sectors that I suspect will have a key role to play in what happens. I think that insurance and government will have some unintended effects.
Government because of roading infrastructure, parking and inner city pressure; and insurance because of simple risk assessment and accident cost.
My immediate thought was that the cost of insurance would be a huge factor in driving consumers to self-drive cars, and that within a decade (in my view) we will see a huge reduction in non-autonomous vehicles on the road. Companies will make the shift in order to drive down risk and insurance overhead. They are renewing fleets regularly anyway: why not reduce risk at the same time?
I didn’t think it would take that much to start pushing up individual insurance premiums. Which would put pressure on individuals when considering their next car purchase.
If self-drive cars become more common, I can see it will free up parking, as your car can go and park itself at an out-of-town lot. The commute becomes akin to a taxi service.
Self-drive should lead over time to less congestion: and you will eventually be able to work in the car.
I was also wondering what that will do to private vehicle ownership. I can see the day when it is no longer necessary to own your own car, but just to whistle up a pod from the local ‘taxi’ company.
I would be really interested to hear your thoughts.

David replied:
Hi Sam! Those are smart thoughts.

I think that you may be right about parking and congestion and vehicle ownership. It’s hard to say for sure from this far out, but those all look like areas that might change a lot with the advent of self-driving cars.

And you might even be right about the rate of adoption of self-driving cars, although that will depend a lot on when autonomous vehicles are available at economical price points, and what their geographic restrictions are.

My post here was focused specifically on the question of whether and when governments might actually prohibit human drivers, and I think that’s a somewhat longer time frame.

Even if lots of people are riding self-driving cars, I think there will be a lot of resistance to the government actually banning anyone from driving human-style.

After all, horses and buggies and bikes are all still allowed out on the road!

  • References: David Silver, David (1 June 2016). Will Human Drivers Be Banned? Retrieved 2 June 2016 from

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