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Car Corner
Autonomous Cars -- All The Problems

August 1, 2016
By Scott Lewis

Autonomous Cars are coming, it is just a matter of time. But it will be a long time. If you have kids (under the driving age), it is likely their kids may never know anything but Autonomous Cars.

But how do we get from here to there? There are a LOT of problems with Autonomous Cars. Some you have heard of, some you have not even thought of. Trust me... somewhere someone is thinking about them.

This article is NOT about the common issues like these:

* When Autonomous Cars get in an accident, who's at fault, who pays?
* How long before ALL cars are Autonomous? (At least 11 years after ALL manufacturers are making them.)
* How will we start? (I believe HOV lanes will be replaced by autonomous lanes initially).
* What happens when an autonomous car kills 1 person to save 5 others?

This article is about the things you probably have NOT thought of. Let's look a the items rarely (maybe never until now) discussed (the last one is the biggest... so read to the end):

* Tickets - Yea, if you have an autonomous car that obeys every traffic law, there would be no tickets. Sweet, right? Unfortunately, how will the municipalities ever survive without that revenue. Some small towns rely on it... especially the ones with speed traps. Does this mean those smaller towns and such will have to lay off their police force. What will big cities do? Los Angeles relies heavily on people paying ticket fines to survive. I can see taxes going up to cover this.

* Trucking - This is a BIG industry. How many truck drivers are there on the highway (hint: over 300,000 in this country I believe)? What happens to those workers when they are replaced my an autonomous truck... that drives all day and all night without rest (mandatory by law in most places for human truck drivers). The shipping industry is surely thinking about this. How they can save money and increase efficiency without drivers. One way would be to pair up drivers, and the the trucks autonomously drive the long distance, then partners meet the truck and one drives it to the local destination. An interesting change to the career of a truck driver no longer needing to go cross-country and be away from family.

* State vs. Federal - What if you have an autonomous car and they are only legal in some states. What happens when you reach a state that has not allowed them? Is this a state thing, or federal. What happens when an autonomous truck reaches a state line where autonomous trucks are not allowed? Geez, this is could be a nightmare.

* Insurance Part I - I am not talking about the above mentioned who pays when there is an accident. Everyone knows about that. I am talking about how much will it cost to insure an autonomous car. Initially, when there is a lot of doubt that autonomous cars can drive better than humans, it might cost more to insure your car. But eventually, when all (or almost all) cars are autonomous and accidents rarely happen, we should all pay a lot less in insurance. So what happens to the insurance companies. They will have to lay off workers, claims adjusters, call center personal by the bucket full. Call centers that do nothing but take claim calls will be virtually unnecessary.

* Insurance Part II - What if you want to drive your car yourself. What kind of penalty will you have to pay to insure your car so you can drive it yourself. Classic cars get far cheaper insurance now because the people that drive them do so less than normal cars, and are much more careful when driving them than regular cars. Will that reverse itself. Will it cost you a small fortune to insure your 66 Chevy so you can drive it yourself?

* Driver's License - Will we even need them? What about the DMV office? They collect a few dollars -- multiplied my millions in large cities -- for each drivers license... and their renewals. Do we get to lay off all those workers (I know, you all want that to happen). Will we pay some other kind of tax to make up for this lost revenue? Will we just all pay for State Issued ID cards (because nobody carries their Social Security card around, which does not have a photo on it).

* Uber (and other ride sharing services) - If your own car is autonomous you don't need an Uber ride home from the bar. Oh, and while you are at home... you can let your car be an Uber Autonomous car for the evening and collect the money. Sweet. This might be just the thing to push autonomous cars into the mainstream. Once there are enough autonomous cars out there AND enough people letting them be used for ride sharing... people that can't afford to buy an autonomous car can simply use the ride sharing autonomous cars. Win-Win.

* Taxis - Will the cab business be flipped on its ear. Just use autonomous cars as Taxis. And they can run 24/7. Will we put all those cabbies out of a job?

* Hacking - This might belong in the section above on the things everyone thinks about. Of course people will be concerned, but do they really know the limits to that? Your car could be hacked to run over someone, turning it into a weapon for murder. Or, hacked to drive into a building an explode, becoming a terrorist weapon. When cars are all interconnected (so they are aware of each other) it could have all kinds of issues if they are hacked.

Finally...

* Auto Manufacturers - How many remember just a few years ago when the government had to bail out the auto industry with loans, and the President of the country had to fire the CEO of General Motors. YIKES! That has never happened before. One of the biggest reasons GM went bankrupt is because they were so tied to making XXXX millions of cars per year. When sales dropped below a certain amount they could not make a profit. They burned through 50 BILLION in cash in a few short years never figuring out how to make a profit selling fewer cars. It took the bankruptcy to get them in line. What happens when people let their autonomous cars be used for ride sharing? Now everyone does not need a car. There will be plenty of cars to shuttle people around.

Think about a big city like New York. There are literally millions of people that live in Manhattan that do NOT own a car (my father was one of them). Replace all those cabbies with autonomous cars. Now, the people that do own cars see it as too much trouble to own a car and the number of people in NYC that do NOT own cars doubles. Now you have far fewer sales.

What if families and friends decide they can share cars. Imagine a family of 4 and a second family of 4 across the street from them decide to "chip in" an buy 3 or 4 autonomous cars together. They will just share them amongst themselves. But take that to another level and strangers pairs up through some service. So instead of getting a ride in a different car every day, you at least are comfortable in one of 2 or 3 vehicles. It will seem more private but still... fewer cars need to be built.

The manufacturers that are trying to build autonomous cars could be paving their own way out of business. If they are truly successful in building fully autonomous cars... why do we need to buy them. 90% of cars in this country sit parked. Someone is going to be the Elon Musk of autonomous cars and figure out how to reduce the number of cars needed in this country (and the world) to 10% of the cars we have, yet none of us will be without available transportation.

So... the manufacturers should start planning now to reduce their overhead so they can still be profitable making far fewer autonomous cars than the number of traditional cars they make today.

Conclusion

So we have many more issues than some of you originally thought. Just deciding who is responsible for a crash, and when will cars be autonomous in the mainstream is small potatoes compared to entire industries that could be changed if all cars are robots. This isn't even an ethics problem, with a robot car deciding who's life is worth saving and who's is not in an accident.

Just wait until we cover when all cars are electric. Because 1) you can bet someday it will happen (regardless of how that electricity gets into the car), and 2) all the tax on gasoline that goes toward maintaining roads. Yep, you are going to be paying more tax somewhere else if you are not paying for it with your Exxon card.

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