Autonomous Cars – They’re Coming, But Are We Ready?

By Ryan Georgiades, Managing Director, Plan Insurance Brokers

There’s no doubt that autonomous cars will soon become a reality – but are we ready? Google are at it, Apple fancy a flutter and numerous other major brands have thrown their hat into the ‘self- driving’ ring. It is estimated that by 2030, we’ll just need to tell our vehicles where we want to go – technology will handle the rest.

On the face of it, autonomous cars deliver a multitude of benefits. A recent study* revealed these self-driving vehicles could revolutionise personal transport and cut carbon emissions by more than 90 per cent. In addition, by removing human error, the number of accidents could be cut dramatically. In fact, Google’s autonomous cars were recently involved in two accidents, both of which were caused by other vehicles driven by humans.

And of course the recent spate of tube strikes could have been avoided if the technology were rolled out to driverless trains as well.

According to a study the SMMT commissioned, if the UK sets itself on the right track, autonomous cars and the systems that connect them to the internet will deliver a £51 billion annual boost to the economy by 2030, increasing UK GDP by one per cent. In the process, 320,000 jobs will be created.

So far so good it would seem. But, are we really prepared for the impact on business and the economy?

What will happen to the insurance industry, an industry directly related to the frequency and severity of accidents? In a world of driverless cars, where accidents are significantly curtailed, most of the premiums will disappear. Insurance will be needed, but to a significantly lesser degree – the market is estimated to reduce by 75 per cent or more. And when you consider that over 300,000 people in the U.K are directly employed in the insurance industry that could spell serious disruption in the jobs market. Companies may think autonomous cars are a way off, but without proper consideration and planning, the issues could be far reaching.

Similar numbers are employed by UK’s the taxi industry which will face revolutionary changes with the introduction of driverless cars. Potentially millions of traditional taxi drivers worldwide stand to be replaced. Uber has already upended conventional taxi companies with its incredibly popular app and network of independent drivers; and has openly said it will replace human drivers with self-driving cars once it’s feasible. What about our iconic black cabs? Will there still be a place for the 25,000 black cabbies?

And what about the pure thrill of driving? The satisfaction of jumping in your car, putting your foot down and accelerating on a wide, open road.

In short, self-driving cars could prove the death-knell for private car ownership. An autonomous car could feasibly carry someone from home to work, head off to a different office and pick up someone going to the airport, even deliver a package in the boot – all while a conventional car would be sitting outside its owner’s house or business. This could of course also mean the end for traditional car brands, couriers, bus, as well as train driver; the list goes on.

Driverless cars are undoubtedly the future, but we must seriously consider, anticipate and plan for their arrival to ensure the positives significantly outweigh the negatives.

* Study conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California


Leave a Reply