The Political Impact of Driverless Cars

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2016-11-21 – The OMGTWBP stories continue (oh my god trump will be president). And I continue to be mostly dismayed, though no longer surprised. But I want to take time out to talk about an issue that will have a big effect on all lives in this country (and the world) but no one is talking much about: self-driving cars.

This may seem like a curiosity to some of you. I stopped being a fan of driving myself after my first 250,000 miles, so I won’t mind it if my car wants to drive itself. But the issue that will change the world has nothing to do with my preference for riding in the passenger seat. This emerging technology is going to have a big impact on traffic patterns and on that all important political football, jobs.

It may or may not surprise you to learn that one of the largest job categories in this country is driver. There are long-haul drivers, there are short-haul drivers, there are bus drivers, and there are cab drivers. A whole lot of people are employed as drivers. What will happen when it becomes cheaper, safer, and more reliable to have computers drive these vehicles? At first, humans will be retained as back-ups in these vehicles. But that’s not going to last for long. It could be 20 years, it could be 40 years, or it could be sooner. But sooner or later, all these jobs will be gone.

When manufacturing jobs disappeared, we could say that they went to China or Mexico. Some did, of course, but many disappeared altogether because of automation. With driver jobs, we won’t even be able to blame foreigners. Driving jobs don’t go overseas. And none of these jobs are affected (at least not directly) by any trade agreements with any country. They are local jobs. Period. And they will be gone.

What then, politicians?

I can’t even begin to think about the impact due to changes in traffic. Our cities (and out interstate highways) are built around human-driven vehicles. What will happen to those when humans are taken out of the equation? I have no idea. I do know that the insurance industry anticipates drastic reductions in accidents—to the point where the need for auto insurance will be radically changed. They are already planning this. Coverage for human error will mostly go away.

Lots of the drivers who stand to lose these jobs were Trump supporters, but lots were Hillary supporters. (I leave it to you to figure out who was who based on your own pre-conceived ideas.)

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