The Utopia of Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous Vehicle (AV) hype seems to be a disease of folks who think they know the future. Our society has already passed the dawn of driverless cars and now the bright light of morning has hit us in the face with some sobering questions. Despite this, utopic euphoria over autonomous vehicles still abounds.

Experts and government officials seem to be hitting the speed dial with eyes glossing over in the belief that everything will be all right in the end.

But should we trust this Pollyanna attitude when it comes to our personal safety and freedom to travel?

Released in June, a report called America’s Workforce and the Self-Driving Future sponsored by Securing America’s Future Energy or SAFE (an economic group seeking to protect the US’s economic interests) is one of the those utopian snapshots of everything lovely. Even worse, it is likely part of an agenda by those who stand to make a great deal of money off whatever aspect of AVs that the group is a part of and that ultimately gets us out of driving our own cars.

The report states that driverless cars will make so much money, no one will care about job loss. By 2050, AVs will contribute $3 to $6 trillion to the US economy. A report from Intel puts that figure at $7 trillion. Here are some sobering statistics and some retread from both reports we have heard before:

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 3.8 million Americans work as motor vehicle operators for trucks, delivery vans, buses and taxis.
  • In 29 states, truck driving is the most common occupation and the second or third in most others.
  • Currently, one million Americans drive part-time for Lyft or Uber.
  • According to the American Trucking Associations, some four million people work in trucking-related jobs other than driving.
  • 50,000 truck driving jobs a year are currently open. Long haul driving positions are difficult to fill. The American Trucking Associations say in the next decade over 900,000 jobs will need to be filled as current drivers retire. Median age of drivers is currently 46.
  • Car and truck dependent occupations would be destroyed or downsized significantly: insurance agents, parking meter/parking lot attendants, truck stops/motels, toll booths, garages/auto body shops.
  • If no one bought private cars, car dealerships, who employed 1.3 million people in 2016 according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, would falter.

President emeritus of the Service Employees International Union Andy Stern said, “This will be the biggest disruption in work and jobs that the country has ever experienced. It will happen relatively soon, and we are in denial and avoidance.”

Here are some other conclusions we have all heard before and maybe see that the evidence is not there to support all of these future assertions.

  • Congestion will be alleviated once AVs rule the road and no longer have to factor in the unpredictability of the human driver. AVs can then go faster since they are talking to each other.

Sounds like hackers will have a field day on this road show.

Currently, congestion is a whole lot worse with Ubers, Lyfts, and delivery trucks crowding regular traffic. With potentially more cars (driverless) on the road, many of them driving empty on their way for a pick up, and less money for transit…how will this actually work in alleviating congestion?

  • No one will ever be hurt again in an AV since the cars will talk to each other and ensure that everyone is safe inside and out.

Again, AVs have a long way to go in order to be safe for both passengers and those outside the car. Does anyone really believe anymore that no deaths will occur when driverless cars rule the Earth?

  • Humans will no longer waste time with driving. Instead, we can work more, shop more, watch TV more and even get our nails done while hurtling toward our destination. According to the Intel Report, this could be a huge boon for in-car passenger services to the tune of $200 billion per year.

My question is why do the utopists think driving is such a burden? Many of us love to drive, even sometimes in traffic. We have time to think, listen to the news or music, see some sights and just enjoy the freedom of propelling our beast where and when we want to go.

  • Using a rideshare AV will be cheaper than keeping your own car. The current rate of car spending is $9,000 per family a year. This includes car payments, gas, insurance and maintenance. If a family subscribes to a service, they might be able to save a whopping $5,000. Founder of the Rethink X think tank Tony Seba said, “That $5,000-per-household boost in disposable income would be the biggest spending boom in US history.”

Prediction: Just like rent, subscription costs will go up each year once we no longer can drive our own cars. The subscription will hook us and then we will have less options than ever before for our transportation needs.

Also, most Americans would use that extra cash for regular living and not as disposable income to fritter away on something like sports betting on your way into work (or at least we hope so).

Reports and articles like these are promoting a driverless future even though the majority of us don’t even want it.

It’s not that we are afraid of an AV, we just want to drive our own car and not rely on anyone else. It is as simple as that.

Note: The San Francisco Chronicle has recently issues a series of reports called Driving the Future that might be worth reading.

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