There are a lot of reasons that autonomous vehicles could completely change the way the world works. It could free up highways by making it so cars can convoy together, speed up traffic jams and just make the whole process of commuting a log easier – since we can get ourselves ready for work in the car without worrying about keeping our eyes on the road. However, there is one other, less attractive, but certainly important aspect of the whole thing: it’ll save a lot of money too.
According to several sources that Mashable spoke to, as it stands, in the US alone, there are over $450 billion worth of automotive accidents every single year. If that could even be cut into by a small percentage, the knock on effect would be huge. Insurers could charge less, consumers would have more disposable income and while the garage repair industry might take a hit, the overall efficiency of the auto industry would massively improve.
This would likely happen with a mass acceptance of autonomous vehicles, since most of the accidents that happen on our roads are caused by human error.
But what about savings the consumer can make on the vehicle itself? Well, those will take some time to offset. According to some reasonably conservative reports, an autonomous vehicle could cost as much as $10,000 (£5,850) more than the same vehicle without the onboard systems required to make it so. While it would be likely to save you money over time, by cutting back on fuel costs, maintenance fees and insurance premiums (much like telematics hardware can do for you today), it will be several years before you start to make your money back. Eventually of course everyone will save, but it will take some time.
You’re also likely to save quicker the more autonomous cars there are on the road. As vehicles become more predictable, it makes the job of the onboard computers much easier and on top of that, fleet driving on the motorway can help save even more through slipstreaming, but that’s much easier to achieve with a lot of vehicles using the same automated system than it is a bunch of human drivers, where one quick brake tap can have a huge knock on effect.
Unfortunately then, this is all going to take some time to reach the average consumer. As it stands, Google’s automated little electric vehicles cost as much as $250,000 a piece to produce, despite lacking a lot of the features of traditional cars. Part of that is of course because the technology is still in its infancy and because Google isn’t your typical auto-maker, it doesn’t have the history, expertise or manufacturing relationships required to make a cost effective vehicle; yet. Given time those costs will come down, thanks to improved manufacturing techniques and competition, which is certainly heating up.
It’s thought that by 2025 there will be about a quarter of a million autonomous vehicles on US roads, so imagine a comparably small number on UK roads around the same time. It could take us well into the 2030’s though before we start to see real numbers. By the middle of that decade it’s thought we’ll be looking at as many as 12 million on US roads, so by then they will be a far more common site and more people will be able to benefit from the cost savings involved. Not to mention all the other improvements.
However the ones we end up seeing on the road may not be ours or others at all, but more like taxis. Most vehicles spend more than 90 per cent of their time parked and not in use, representing a big waste of time and materials. If instead of owning vehicles we could simply call one as needed and it arrived within minutes, these sorts of autonomous cars could be kept active for longer, creating a whole new industry, as well as saving driveway space across the country.
We could save money there as well. Current prices per mile are over £2 for some taxis in certain cities. With automatic ones, that could drop to more like 20p.
Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson