6 ways that self-driving cars will affect you

Imagine sitting in the driver’s seat of your car and cruising down the road while you play with your iPad – or take a nap. It’s no longer sci-fi fantasy: Self-driving cars are here.

California recently gave the green light to autonomous vehicles, allowing driverless cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. California is the third state to pass laws allowing autonomous cars, following Nevada and Florida.

google-self-driving-carThese vehicles aren’t being tested just in the United States. Britain and Germany also are taking driverless cars for a spin. In 2010, a driverless van completed a trip from Italy to China.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predicts self-driving vehicles will account for about three-fourths of cars on the road by 2040.

Here are six ways that self-driving vehicles will affect you.

1. Your insurance rates will change.

Experts agree that the rate-setting process for auto insurance will need to be overhauled for self-driving vehicles.

“If driverless cars were to become more of a reality, insurers would likely need to create a new auto insurance product,” says Michael Barry, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

Who “owns” fault in an accident will be a big issue with autonomous cars – because of questions about who, or what, is in control. An accident could be the fault of the driver, the manufacturer or the programmer of the car’s software.

Barry says: “Driverless cars could increase the potential liability of the car’s manufacturer or an auto body repair shop if an accident were traced to a design or maintenance failure.”

There’s no definitive answer as to how auto insurance rates will be affected by driverless cars. Insurance implications haven’t been addressed because there’s no history of insurance claims for these vehicles, Barry says.

2. You’ll be safer.

Partly because of the success of crash-avoidance technology that’s already installed in some cars, supporters think self-driving cars will save lives.

“Crash avoidance technologies are the building blocks for autonomous vehicles,” says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Rader says research on how those systems are working in the real world shows promise. For example, electronic stability control (technology that improves a car’s stability by detecting and reducing skidding) reduces deaths in single-car crashes by 49 percent, according to IIHS.

Google’s fleet of 12 driverless Toyotas have logged more than 300,000 miles without any accidents.

3. You might buy a Google car.

Google doesn’t plan to make driverless cars, but it does plan to provide the technology for them. In May 2012, Nevada issued the first driver’s license for a driverless Toyota Prius powered by Google technology. Google’s driverless cars are being tested in Florida and California as well.

Almost every major automaker is working on autonomous cars, says John O’Dell, senior editor at automotive website Edmunds.com. Among them are GM, Volvo, Daimler, Audi, Hyundai, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen.

4. You might be able to ditch your license.

Self-driving cars will increase the use of shared-car programs, Alberto Broggi, professor of computer engineering at the University of Parma in Italy, says in a news release. Similar to taxis, autonomous cars would take you to a destination and then move on to the next user.

“Shared-car services will promote more continuous movement, garner more efficient operation and use less gas,” Broggi says.

So, just as you don’t need a driver’s license for public transportation, you wouldn’t need one for shared-car services.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t need a license, but it may mean the end of driver’s tests as we know it. O’Dell points out that people will have to show that they can “remain alert and ready to take over (like an airline pilot) in the event of a systems breakdown.”

5. You’ll pay more for less control.

Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at market research company J.D. Power and Associates, says consumers remain leery of driverless technology. But for many, the benefits – increased productivity and freedom – outweigh the risks. Some say driverless vehicles could be customized as mobile offices, sleep pods or entertainment centers.

Of course, the cost may deter you. In a recent study by market research powerhouse J.D. Power and Associates, one-fifth of car owners said they “definitely” or “probably” would purchase cars that would control acceleration, braking and steering – at an extra cost of about $3,000. Before learning about the higher price tag, 37 percent said they would be interested in autonomous technology.

“The expectation is that this won’t be an inexpensive feature, given what it’s supposed to do,” VanNieuwkuyk says.

6. Your travel will be more efficient.

Forget traffic lights, traffic jams and slow speeds.

“Intersections will be equipped with sensors, cameras and radars that can monitor and control traffic flow to help eliminate driver collisions and promote a more efficient flow of traffic,” Broggi says.

Broggi thinks we’ll hit speed limits of up to 100 miles per hour by 2040 – without the need for traffic lights.

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