The Biggest Obstacles to Our Driverless Future

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The Biggest Obstacles to Our Driverless Future

We’ve been closely tracking the progress of autonomous vehicles in Trends for our subscribers since at least 2007.  Now, nearly a decade later, the technology is finally catching up to the vision—thanks to rapid advances in artificial intelligence, sensing systems, and processing power—and driverless cars are nearly ready to take over the road. 

Unfortunately, technologies often move faster than the society that ultimately accepts or rejects them.  In this case, the benefits of driverless cars couldn’t be clearer. 

A 2013 study by Morgan Stanley revealed that autonomous vehicles offer the potential to save the United States $1.3 trillion each year.1  The savings break down as follows:

  • $488 billion from preventing crashes
  • $507 billion from improving productivity
  • $158 billion from saving fuel
  • $138 billion in additional productivity improvements from avoiding traffic jams
  • $11 billion in additional fuel savings from avoiding congestion

By taking the steering wheel away from human drivers, autonomous cars could save tens of thousands of lives each year.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, human mistakes account for 94 percent of car crashes, which cause about 38,000 fatalities per year.

Driverless vehicles would also enable people who can’t drive, such as disabled or elderly people, the freedom to go anywhere in their own car.

If people shared those cars—such as by using a fleet of driverless vehicles that weren’t owned by the people who used them—the results would be even lower costs, plus savings in time, fewer emissions, and better use of land:2

  • According to University of Texas research, every shared autonomous vehicle could take the place of up to nine privately owned vehicles. The average wait time for a car would be only a minute, and during the busiest times the wait would be a mere four minutes.
  • A Columbia University study found that shared autonomous vehicles would reduce consumers’ transportation costs by 75 percent.
  • According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study published in Nature Climate Change, greenhouse gas emissions of a battery-powered shared driverless car would be about 90 percent lower in 2030 than those of a 2014 gasoline-powered privately owned vehicle.3
  • Replacing private ownership of cars with shared autonomous cars would eliminate much of the current need for parking. Because cars are only in use about 4 percent of the time today, they must be parked for about twenty-three hours per day...

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