Self-Driving Cars Could Radically Improve the World in a Few Short Years

2021 could be a watershed.

Self-driving cars on a high way driving one behind another
"Minority Report"

Self-driving car adoption will come fast and the effects will be profound, think tank RethinkX says in a major new report.

The report predicts regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles by 2021, followed by exponential growth in an industry of rented on-demand autonomous vehicles — think self-driving Uber or Zip Car. That new business model, described as transport-as-a-service (TaaS), is projected to account for 95% of US passenger miles traveled by 2030.

As for what that will do to the world, strap in.

RethinkX, whose predictions are guided by clean energy guru and cofounder Tony Seba, predicts a staggering array of consequences. They sound on-balance good for mankind if also somewhat frightening as disruption often is.

Some consequences predicted for the U.S.:

  • The average household will save $5,600 annually on transportation costs starting in 2021. This will be worth $1 trillion in savings to U.S. households from 2021 to 2030 — and it will amount to a huge boost to consumer spending.
  • Productivity gains as a result of reclaimed driving hours will boost GDP by over $1 trillion. Currently, we spend 140 billion hours in vehicles every year: that will be time that former drivers can spend in V.R. meetings — or whatever work looks like in that era — if not enjoying sleep or leisure.
  • The number of passenger vehicles on the road will plummet by 200 million, opening up vast tracts of land for more productive uses. (Meanwhile, nearly 100 million vehicles will be abandoned and new car sales will collapse.)
  • By 2030, people will travel by road 50% more than in 2021. They will find it easier to travel for jobs, education, and health care, not to mention shopping, culture, and everything else.
  • Vehicle energy demand will fall 80 percent; tailpipe emissions by over 90 percent.
  • Traffic fatalities will become rare. (According to another prominent report, total accidents could decline by 90 percent/)

In short, “TaaS will dramatically lower transportation costs; increase mobility and access to jobs, education and health care (especially for those restricted in today’s model, like elderly and the disabled); create trillions of dollars in consumer surplus; and contribute to cleaner, safer and more walkable communities,” RethinkX writes.

Meanwhile, globally:

  • The oil industry will collapse.
  • World powers will stop fighting over oil. They may, however, have to grapple with major geopolitical risks as oil powers become destabilized.

Exciting times ahead.

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