Automation is Progress

When most people first consider the idea of autonomous vehicles a number of emotions seem to make themselves known very quickly in a short amount of time. As people begin to consider just how their world may be impacted by such a change they experience something very similar to the five stages of grief. First, they deny that the change is feasible, that it would happen at all seems ridiculous. Then, denial turns to anger, most notedly in those who make a living as part of the transport industry. After that comes the two stages of bargaining and depression where people begin to try to rationalize how they might perhaps manage to keep their small part of the world compartmentalized and unchanged rest of the world moves on. A frequently heard phrase at this point might be along the lines of, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it,” or, “I can’t use that, I’m not a (insert concept or object here) person!” And yet, finally (and perhaps painfully), such a person arrives at acceptance where they acknowledge that just as the world has changed yesterday, so too will it change today whether they like it or not.

But why does all this happen? Why is it that innovation consistently seems to face such rejection when it is first introduced? Well as far as autonomous vehicles go, at face value it can seem like a scary thought leaving your life in the hands of a machine and yet it turns out that these “machines” will soon be smarter than the average human, and consequently, better drivers too. While it may seem scary however it is important to notice that the incoming wave of autonomous vehicles is very beneficial to us all. Indeed, the first positive coming from AV is the elimination of human error. People are more likely to make a mistake than a programed vehicle is on any given day and practically the only time technology fails is in the event of a system failure. Today 81% of all accidents are caused by human error, therefore it is no surprise that taking away any threat of human error immediately makes the roads a safer place to be.

In addition to that, while unemployment is both a huge economical and political factor in the U.S. today that many people see autonomous vehicles further exasperating, there is evidence to show that the advent of automated vehicles may have quite the opposite effect. Looking at job creation (or perhaps what is more appropriately phrased as job shifting), Udacity, has recently teamed up with Mercedes-Benz to create a class that will teach workers to become automated vehicle engineers and technicians. The number of jobs that are going to be shifted into this field are going to be climbing dramatically for the next five years as the first AV are set to hit the streets in 2020. This may prove extremely beneficial for current laborers who will now be forced to diversify and learn some new skills. But the reward will be worth it as forecasters predict that the average AV engineer will be making well within six figures as starting pay.

The United States government has now also climbed on board of the new and growing technology, and has issued a backing for all companies to continue their divisions of AV. Further, with public safety in mind, the Department of Transportation issued a 15- point safety standard for all companies to follow. This is a huge step in the right direction because usually the law lags behind the technology, but now the government is trying to get ahead of the curve and keep the public interest in mind. Even smaller scale governments are taking notice as Summit township has teamed up with Uber and NJ Transit to start giving commuters rides to the train station in order to alleviate parking troubles. This is a glimpse into the future, and it such a innovative idea at this time because with public space shrinking, the less cars on the road the better for everyone. Not only do these ideas help the global warming conversation but also will make the commute for people less stressful and time consuming as they no longer have to worry about parking.

According to the US Department of Transportation’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, 94 percent of road accidents were caused by mistakes of motorists, it is estimated that this percentage will drastically decrease if autonomous vehicles are introduced into the market.  Another efficient factor of autonomous vehicles besides its safety but we can expect an increase in the capacity of cars being on the road as well as a decrease in traffic jams because of the self-driving cars will have features to better manage traffic flow.  Autonomous cars will be equipped with “crash avoidance technology” which will dictate when it is safe to change lane, the feature of lane departure warnings will become mandatory on all cars, currently some cars like the Mazda has this feature.  Corporations are hoping to attract young people to use these autonomous vehicles especially because they will have the ability to continue texting and remaining actively connected to the internet.  According to the Google Study the driverless cars also proved to be better at keeping a safe distance between vehicles than human drivers could. An autonomous car would be efficient when it comes to having mobility for those who don’t know how to drive.  This will provide independent mobility for non-drivers, elderly and disabled.   

Autonomous cars not only will offer an improved traffic flow, but cars will be able to drive closer together, cars will be made lighter since the risk of crashing has diminished.  Looking for parking spaces becomes a lesser of a concern, you don’t have to circle looking for one any longer.  These driverless cars offer motorists the opportunity to work, relax, and conduct meetings in the car.  People would opt to use the autonomous car to make long road trips instead of using other means of transportation.  People that would not have been able to drive human piloted cars, who do not know the language, the sixteen year old that needs a ride from after-school activities to home will be able to utilize these cars will be able to take advantage of this new technology.

In addition to all this there is another, perhaps overlooked benefit of automated vehicles: the removal of personal vehicles. On its face the idea of losing access to one’s personal vehicles sounds more like a punishment along the lines of getting your driver’s license revoked, and less like a benefit. After all, if a man’s house is his castle than is his car not his mighty steed? However if people put their personal feelings aside and look at this situation from a more analytical perspective, it becomes clear what makes the most sense in this situation. Perhaps surprisingly, when analyzing the concepts and facts behind a move away from personal to automated vehicles it makes absolutely perfect sense for both governments, companies, and individuals to phase out personal cars, both for the sake of finance and for the sake of convenience.

First and foremost, from a financial perspective automated vehicles look extremely appealing. As the Huffington Post points out currently the average American spends, “over $2,000 per year just to fill up the (gas) tank.” Further, factoring in other expenses such as maintenance and cleaning on top of the money spent on gas, AAA estimates that “the annual cost to own and operate a vehicle” is now “$8,698” or in other terms, “a driver can expect to spend 58 cents for each mile driven, nearly $725 per month, to cover the fixed and variable costs associated with owning and operating a car in 2015.” Already it becomes obvious exactly just how much of an investment a car can be without even factoring in the cost of purchasing or leasing a vehicle. With the advent of automated vehicle technology the potential exists to completely replace the whole concept of buying a car, completely taking that cost off the average citizen’s bill. In the end, what this kind of innovation means for us is that autonomous cars will be safer, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient than a motorist driven car.

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