So many changes in so little time. It's enough to make your head spin.
The timeframe for the introduction of autonomous cars will be short. We're not talking about decades. The vehicles are already here. We're talking about what will happen in the next few years and what the future holds for drivers as time goes by. There are questions to be answered, questions no one has firm answers to. The change-over to fully autonomous vehicles will take some time -- but not much. At first, the highways will have a mix of vehicles. Driverless cars will share the roadways with the driver-operated vehicles we all are familiar with. But at some point, manufactures will turn out only autonomous cars and trucks. Conventional vehicles will gradually head to the junkyard or to collections of vintage cars. Sooner than we expect, we will be surrounded only by cars, trucks, and buses making their ways down the streets operated by nothing human. Software and sensors will be in command.
But here's some food for thought. Will you need a license to ride in an autonomous vehicle? Perhaps at first when the vehicle can be either self-driving or operated in the conventional way by a person. But if it is fully self-driving, it might be similar to a flight. After all, we board the plane and settle back in our seats and let the pilots and software fly the aircraft. Okay, I know! Pilots are needed. At least at first, humans may be needed too. But soon we may all be riding along as if we are on the monorail headed for the Magic Kingdom. No worries. Just safe, effortless travel.
Speaking of safety . . . a common objection to driverless cars is the issue of safety. How safe are they? Well, I would put money on this: they will be much safer than what we currently have. In 2017 (the most recent figures) there were 37,133 fatalities on US roads. In 2016 the figure was 37,806. Fenway Park in Boston holds a little over 37,000 people. In other words, a ballpark full of people die on the roads in the US every year. Worldwide it is somewhere between one and two million. Exact numbers are difficult to gather, but you get the idea. The car is a serious threat to our health, if you want to look at it that way.
Here's another question. Will you need insurance to ride in an autonomous vehicle? You can buy flight insurance, but it's not mandatory. Perhaps the same will be true of autonomous vehicles. Maybe many of us won't need to own cars. If Lyft and Uber and dozens of other companies of this type are available at a moment's notice, many of us may not need cars. Autonomous vehicles will become a kind of public transportation. We'll talk about insurance and taxes in our next blog.