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Predictions of the Consequences from the Implementation of Autonomous Vehicles

Predictions of the Consequences from the Implementation of Autonomous Vehicles

by Bill Zachry, SCIF Board Member


Every new technology comes with unintended consequences. New technologies can bring wondrous opportunities. However, they also may come with safety, economic, and social challenges.

In today’s world, autonomous transportation is nothing new. All of today’s commercial airplanes are essentially autonomous. Notwithstanding the recent Boeing 737 problems, the transition to autonomous flight has been relatively painless. It did not disrupt our social and economic and social fabric.

The transition from manual to autonomous flight was much smoother than the economic, social, and infrastructural changes that we will experience when we transition to autonomous vehicles.

Implementing new transportation technology has its inherent risks. When we first started implementing traffic lights and traffic lanes really did not exist. It is apocryphal that one of the alleged first automobile accidents in America happened in 1895 Ohio. The only two registered cars in the State crashed into each other.

As we stand on the cusp of the implementation of autonomous vehicles, this paper is intended to encourage you to ponder the (good and bad) economic, social and moral issues that we will experience as we transition from driving our cars to riding in autonomous vehicles.

The transition to fully autonomous vehicles still has significant technological challenges. The transition will be occasionally painful (loss of life and physical property damage).

This predictive list of “Unintended Consequences” assumes that the technological challenges will be overcome and that eventually the autonomous vehicle system will be fully “autonomous”. It also assumes that the transition will take several decades to complete. This paper does not take into account the societal and economic changes from the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

Unintended Consequences (transition issues)

  • Until there 100% of the transportation done by autonomous vehicles, we can expect that during the initial transition we may see increase in accidents caused by “distracted driving” and unfamiliar technology rather than the expected reduction of accident frequency.
  • The transition process from manual to fully AV will result in increased distracted driving and a degrading of driving skills. Everything that auto manufacturers do to make the driving task a little easier means that people are going to pay less attention when they are driving. The freedom afforded by the new aids invites abuse by drivers who treat technology as if it is fully capable of taking control, with little or no human input necessary. At a considerably basic level, consumers don’t have any idea of how these systems work because they’re all named something different and they all function differently. AAA is urging automakers and regulators to agree on standard terms and parameters for semi-autonomous features. We have already seen several accidents where the driver was not paying attention to the road because they were relying too heavily on partly autonomous vehicle technology.
  • Drivers can become so accustomed to the autonomous aids that they forget when getting into older vehicles or rental cars that aren’t equipped with the same technology. If a driver uses an unfamiliar car that is equipped with a system, performance can vary widely by brand. For example, some adaptive cruise controls can bring a car to a full stop during low-speed driving, but not at highway speeds. A driver may become accustomed to one system but not realize that above speeds of 50 miles per hour, it’s not going to bring the vehicle to a stop.
  • The initial evolution on our roads will be the current HOV lanes on freeways, which in 10 years’ time will be designated for autonomous vehicles only.

Unintended Consequences (infrastructure)

  • An autonomous vehicle fleet will reduce or eliminate the need for traffic lights. To experience this, all one must do is to go to Vietnam and walk across the street…No one there stops for lights or cross traffic. The cars and motorcycles just drive around the pedestrians (usually) without hitting them. This is an example of efficiency in heavy traffic.
  • Autonomous vehicles will change the speed limits. Speed limits are primarily set for three reasons: pedestrian safety, public safety (other vehicles) and fuel consumption. Autonomous vehicles will be able to travel faster and closer together than human driven automobiles, while still using far less fuel than human driven cars. This will result in increased density usage of the highways.
  • The personal use of space for the home (Architecture) will change. 120 years ago, most houses and cities needed to accommodate horses. With the advent of automobiles came the garage. With a sharing economy, the need for a garage is eliminated (OK where will I put the Halloween stuff??).
  • When autonomous vehicles are fully implemented, street corners will not require crosswalks, street signs, stop signs or stoplights. Neighborhoods will not need to have parking limitations.
  • Depending upon the time of day and the traffic patterns, the question of which lane goes which direction will be fungible.
  • The density of the traffic on highways will be significantly higher, the number of on and off ramps for the freeways will be significantly increased. The width of car lanes will be much smaller.
  • Retail stores will not have to be located to accommodate traffic patterns.
  • Fuel stations will not be on prime street corner locations.
  • If parking lots are still needed, there will be no need for those to be in prime real-estate locations.
  • City planners and architects will have to re-design existing and new places for passenger drop off and pick up. Watching parents drop off and pick up their children from schools is illustrative of how the new traffic flow will look at work and shopping sites.
  • Autonomous vehicles may change the locations and the demand for roadside fast-food restaurants. The need to stop will be primarily for bio-breaks, which will either increase the volume of traffic in Starbucks or will reduce the number of Starbucks restaurants near highways. (The cleanliness of the Starbucks bathrooms as compared to the gas stations have eliminated gas stations as “the stop of choice” for bio breaks.)
  • Autonomous vehicles may change the landscape for outdoor advertising. Advertising may not completely disappear. To help offset the transportation expense some vehicles may have targeted advertising in the vehicles.
  • There will be an increase in the use of restaurants because of the ease of transportation as well as the elimination of worry associated with impaired driving or the expense and difficulty in finding parking. As a result, there will be a continued increase in the demand for service workers in the restaurant community. (This prediction assumes that the Covid pandemic will be resolved with a vaccine or herd immunity).
  • Autonomous vehicles will increase the use of alcohol. The worry about drinking and driving will go away which will allow no one to be the designated driver. This will help increase the profitability of some bars and restaurants, as well as INBEV.
  • Because of the increased ease of use and lower costs of longer trips autonomous vehicles have the potential of putting additional population pressures on rural locations.
  • Walking, riding bicycles, or scooters in cities may be easier and less dangerous with autonomous vehicles. Eventually, most cities will be re-designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles because autonomous vehicles will eliminate much of the street parking and congestion.
  • Most of the small local auto repair shops will disappear as the frequency and severity of accidents are eliminated. However, there may be a need for additional maintenance shops or stops for autonomous vehicles.
  • There may be designated locations (quaint towns in Vermont, or remote national forest locations) where people can still drive vintage cars and trucks. In 40 years, there may be a huge demand for specialty tracks where people can still actually drive vintage cars.

Unintended Consequences (safety issues)

  • Autonomous Vehicles will save lives. When transportation is fully autonomous, the frequency and severity of automobile accidents on the highways and freeways will almost be eliminated. This is due to the IoT learning process. Every time there is an accident involving any autonomous vehicle, it is an opportunity for the entire fleet to be reprogramed to avoid an accident involving the same scenario. Humans do not learn from the experience of the whole. Per the Federal Government, in 2015, vehicles accounted for 34,000 deaths, 2.4 million injured and 6.3 million police-reported vehicle accidents. Car pollution from emissions killed another 53,000 Americans (Economist). Other than the Opioid epidemic (64,000 died from the epidemic in 2016 (per the CDC mortality report), vehicles are the biggest cause of premature death in the United State.
  • Autonomous Vehicles will significantly reduce the source of organ donors. (Crisper Cas – 9 may make up for the reduction in donor organs)
  • Autonomous vehicles will make it safer for motorcycles to be on the road. In 2014 14% of all deaths on the roads were associated with motorcycle accidents. As a result, we may see an increased use of motorcycles as a method of “inexpensive” transportation.
  • Group health medical care will improve for the elderly. With autonomous vehicles, it will be easier for the elderly to go to the doctor’s office for prophylactic care. Scheduling will be easier, and the trips will be far less arduous for the elderly.
  • In the case of certain emergencies (if a person is having a stroke or heart attack while in the car) the car will be able to automatically discern that there is an emergency taking place and take the person to the nearest medical facility.
  • There will be lowered utilization of emergency rooms because of the elimination of automobile accidents.

Unintended Consequences (fuel and manufacturing and design issues)

  • If the vehicles continue to use fossil fuel, autonomous vehicles could reduce fossil fuel consumption by as much as 44 percent for passenger vehicles and 18 percent for trucks (A study issued by the Energy Information Administration). This does not consider the impact that electronic vehicles will have on fossil fuel consumption.
  • This paper assumes that most of the Autonomous Vehicles will be electronic vehicles. Several EU members and States have already passed legislation banning internal combustion engines by midcentury.
  • The transition to electric vehicles will have a significant impact on the worldwide demand for oil. Though the USA is now the largest producer of fossil fuel in the world, the reduced demand for oil will have a significant impact on much of the geo-politics involving the Middle East.
  • Even without a shift to safe, self-driving vehicles, electric propulsion will offer enormous environmental and health benefits. Charging car batteries from central power stations is more efficient than burning fuel in separate engines. Existing electric cars reduce carbon emissions by 54% compared with petrol-powered ones, according to America’s National Resources Defense Council. That figure will rise as electric cars become more efficient and grid-generation becomes greener. Local air pollution will fall.
  • Compared with internal combustion vehicles, electric cars are much simpler and have fewer parts. They are essentially computers on wheels. That means they need fewer people to assemble them and fewer subsidiary systems from specialist suppliers. With less to go wrong, the market for maintenance and spare parts needed for Autonomous electric vehicles will shrink. However, it will not go away. It will transition.
  • While today’s carmakers grapple with their costly legacy of old factories and swollen workforces, new entrants will be unencumbered with legacy overhead (particularly union pension obligations). Premium brands may be able to stand out through styling and handling, but low-margin, mass-market carmakers will have to compete chiefly on cost.
  • The interior design and technology of autonomous vehicles will eventually be radically different than our current vehicles. For instance, there will be vehicles designed for long trips, which may include bed space and bathrooms while vehicles designed for short trips may be radically smaller with significantly less storage space.
  • Autonomous vehicles will not need bumpers or other heavy metals associated with the current safety mandates. Autonomous vehicles will be far lighter and more aerodynamic than our current internal combustion human-driven automobiles, resulting in significant fuel efficiency.
  • This transition to eliminate unnecessary “safety” equipment will take years to change because of the many Federal and State laws currently require lights, bumpers and other safety equipment. Sometimes it is more difficult to eliminate old useless laws than it is to add new laws to the books.

Unintended Consequences (economics)

  • Federal State and Local revenue from the gas taxes will be significantly reduced. Currently gasoline taxes pay for much of the auto infrastructure. Federal gasoline taxes are 18.5 cents per gallon. State gasoline taxes range from a low of 14 cents in Alaska to a high of 59.8 cents per gallon in Pennsylvania).
  • With a sharing economy, one will probably pay more for a “single passenger” and less if there are several passengers in the vehicle. Income, the time of day and desire to “go it alone” will determine if the ride is shared with others or a single passenger. The expense of trips will be based on distance and the time of the day.
  • Autonomous vehicles will result in the pricing the need and kind of automobile insurance to change. Initially, autonomous vehicles will have lower costs than that for manually driven cars. The increased exposure of manual drivers when they are driving on mixed-use roads and highways will result in manual drivers having a significantly higher insurance cost than those who are 100% autonomous.
  • Autonomous vehicles will reduce the number of “professional” drivers in the public transportation industries.
  • Cab medallions, as currently managed in most cities, will continue to be a poor investment.
  • Public Transportation will also be caught up in the tsunami caused by autonomous vehicles. It will need to be fully re- designed. There will be a reduced demand for public transportation unless the expense and convenience are not kept lower than that of autonomous vehicles. If the highways can be used efficiently, and trip time from point a to point b is reduced, will there still be a demand for public transportation?
  • Uber / Lyft, Door Dash – Following the Apple model (first disrupt the music business with a device and then take the device away and go to the cloud), Uber / Lyft and door dash first disrupted the transportation business with a shared model process. They will eventually remove all of the human element from their transportation and delivery requirements by going to fully autonomous vehicles or drones.
  • Autonomous vehicles will eliminate many “middle class” jobs such as trucking, public transportation, and taxis. In an unofficial survey of the Uber and Lyft drivers, most are working part time, supplementing their retirement incomes or are otherwise unemployed. As AV is implemented, what will happen to these people who are already somewhat displaced from the workforce, when they no longer have access to this income?
  • Autonomous vehicles may eliminate a major source of revenue for attorneys who are associated with prosecuting or defending people who were involved in automobile accidents.
  • Worker’s compensation subrogation exposure will be reduced.
  • Parking costs are a significant part of the calculation to use public transportation. If parking is no longer a factor in the equation, there will be a decrease in the demand for public transportation.

Unintended Consequences (social issues)

  • There will be a change from the DMV to another method of Government issues identification process. With this change will be an associated discussion of privacy, and transportation security.
  • To the great anguish of many children, Santa Claus will transition to an autonomous sled and retire Rudolph and the other reindeer.
  • Full implementation of Autonomous vehicles will eliminate much of the time wasted during commutes. 86% of American workers commute by automobile every workday. American commuters lose more than 42 hours (about 2 days) per year commuting. Traffic delays cost the American commuter almost a thousand dollars per year which amounts to over $30,000 for a career. These numbers are already changing due to the covid-19 work- at-home change in work culture.
  • Autonomous vehicles will improve presenteeism and reduce absenteeism at work. The fatigue of driving should be eliminated. The replacement of wasted commute hours with napping or productive work time should improve employee productivity at work. Some companies continue to evolve towards more employees working from their homes, while other companies find that employee interaction at the office is crucial for achieving superior collaboration and bottom-line results. Autonomous vehicles will impact these discussions.
  •  Our grandchildren will not need to learn how to drive (or may not be allowed to drive).
  •  It will be easier to make sure that injured workers get to and from their doctor’s visits.
  • It will be easier for workers with physical limitations to economically get to and from their work.
  • Autonomous vehicles will reduce or eliminate drunk drivers on the roads. There are already studies showing that as Uber has increased its penetration in the market there has been a significant corresponding reduction in the number of arrests for drunk driving. As a result, there will be a reduced demand for defense attorneys who represent drunk drivers in court.
  • Autonomous vehicles will significantly change the sources of revenues and expenses for cities. Without drunk drivers, and with fewer automobile accidents, there will be a significant reduction in the need for police to attend to these issues. In some jurisdictions, this will eliminate a significant source of income (vehicle citations and parking tickets) for many cities. Parking revenue for cities will also disappear.
  • The need for State Highway Patrol Officers will also be significantly reduced. The savings in salaries and pension costs will be significant.
  • Autonomous Vehicles will be the first introduction to the general population to serious ethical questions involving equipment and technology. From Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws come the programable ethics involving who lives and who dies (or is injured) in an AV crash. Does the car kill a passenger or the pedestrian if a crash cannot be avoided? We currently make these decisions reactively.
  • Autonomous Vehicles will be the first widespread introduction of Isaac Asimov’s “The Three Laws of Robotics” to the general population:
    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Unintended Consequences (security issues)

  • Autonomous security will be one of the biggest factors in determining when fully autonomous vehicles will be accepted and implemented. What crimes will occur when vehicles can be re-routed to destinations, not of the passengers choosing or stop or made to collide or kill occupants? What about the mass mayhem which may result if the central computers are altered so all of the cars in a system are suddenly without any controls at all? What if someone takes control of a vehicle that is taking your children to school and wants ransom to release it and not harm the children? Computer crime comes with less risk of being caught than physical crimes.
  • Autonomous vehicles will reduce the level of auto involved crime, fraud, and abuse. It will eliminate the notorious swoop and squat staged accidents.
  • Autonomous vehicles will not be able to be used as weapons.
  •  Using biometric security with autonomous vehicles will significantly reduce theft.
  • Police car chases (and the dangers associated with these events) will be a thing of the past. Police will be able to either shut down a vehicle or if for some reason, they can’t shut it down can program their cars to safely follow another vehicle until it eventually stops.
  • If the police can stop autonomous vehicles, theoretically so can anyone else. Eventually there will be no need for police cars to patrol the streets. The police will be able to route someone to “the station”?
  • If vehicles are fully autonomous, there will be no police chases.
  •  The need for police to investigate and manage automobile accidents will be eliminated. The example of this is that when a non-autonomous vehicle hit an autonomous Google vehicle, the police report (including video, weather, and extent of damage) was automatically sent to the police department within a few seconds of the accident.
  • Even in dense traffic, a fully autonomous system will significantly reduce the time it takes for fire trucks and ambulances to get to a scene. Thereby reducing both property loss and improving mortality.

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