Self-driving cars have enormous ramifications for all investors

Self-driving cars have enormous ramifications for all investors, by Jack Hough.

Self-driving vehicles could hit showrooms within five years — and begin to dominate the roads in as few as 15. They will bring more networking, electrification and ride-hailing, along with some predictable long-term changes.

Among these are a plunge in accidents, emissions and private car ownership, and a freeing up of commuter time. There are many follow-on effects to consider, too. Among them:

  • Entire professions could become obsolete. Beyond professional drivers for cars, trucks and buses, there are salespeople, insurance workers, fuel-station owners, parking attendants, car-wash workers and more. …
  • No more speeding or parking tickets, and no more meter fees. Cities will have to make up the revenue, perhaps by taxing ­mobility services. …
  • Programmers will be forced to make life-and-death decisions in advance, until regulators create guidelines. For example, if a pedestrian darts out in front of a passenger-carrying robo-car, should the computer prioritise the life of the passenger or the pedestrian? Does it matter if there are two pedestrians and one passenger? Will consumers embrace self-driving cars that don’t give their lives, and their lives of their families, top ­priority in all cases? …
  • Waiting lists for organ donations will grow longer, as car accidents, especially fatal ones, become rarer. …

It’s too late for scepticism on robo-cars. Alphabet’s Waymo division has already logged three million autonomous miles. Eight companies have plans to bring fully self-driving cars to market within the next five years.

IHS Markit, a research group, predicts 32 per cent market penetration of highly autonomous cars by 2035.

Ride-hailing services are already testing driverless taxis, including Uber and Lyft in the US and GrabTaxi in Singapore.

In coming years, they could roll out services costing $US1 a mile, which compares favourably with the cost of car ownership. As the technology ­matures, costs could be pushed lower.

There will be accidents, including deadly ones, with no drunk or reckless drivers to blame, just programming bugs, and an already robo-phobic public will recoil from the coverage on cable news.

Yet the cold calculus of those deaths is perhaps the main ­reason that self-driving cars are inevitable.