Driving / Riding Will Soon Be A Privilege


Watching my young daughters play act driving a car the other day got me thinking and realizing that they are liking going to be among the last generation to be driving their own vehicle.

Word of the driverless cars (aka ‘autonomous vehicles’ as it is known within the car industry) has long been around, and what was once a concept is soon developing into reality. Some reasons (as stated by Chairman of the Board for Nissan/ Renault, Carlos Ghosn), point to “electric car sales (are) not driven by consumer demand but by regulation of emissions which in turn encourage(d) consumers to buy electric cars.” Despite what Trump and his confederates may say or believe, the support for climate control and developing ‘greener’ alternatives has become big business, with profit to be made in the ‘green energy realm’ which, a mere 20 years ago, was idly dismissed as science fiction largely held up by government subsidiaries.

No more: there’s money to be made in ‘green energy’ products and services.

But before we break out the champagne and celebrate, we need to differentiate between electric vehicles and driverless vehicles: not all vehicles are electric, but driverless cars are primarily electric (and for purposes of this discussion, we’re focusing on driverless cars).

Driverless vehicles are primarily ‘green’ and electric in nature because, well, that’s where things are going. And driverless cars are gaining greater legal acceptance, with such states as Nevada accepting applications for driverless vehicles (but not authorizing their full usage). Still, it’s a major development, especially as insurance companies see this as a boon.

‘Wait a minute’, you ask: ‘aren’t insurance companies going to lose out when cars are computer driven with no driver involvement?’

Yes – and no.

There’s going to be an initial push back as folks will find it hard to surrender control to a computer, but let’s be honest: who doesn’t want to go out and not worry about being the designated driver, sit back and watch a video instead, or catch up on Facebook as you commute to work, avoiding the stress and rage of traffic jams?

Driverless vehicles are more than just new technology: they’re a paradigm shift. For generations, we’ve been enthralled by the notion of freedom associated with owning and driving a car. Hop in and go, with notions of Jack Kerouac ‘On The Road’ in our heads. But now, with rising costs of gas, the difficulties of taking time off from work (for those of us who are still working) it’s remarkable to note the generational shift of twenty somethings who are not only not using cars, but are foregoing getting their driver’s license altogether:

Young people are not getting driver’s licenses so much anymore. In fact, no one is. According to a new study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the percentage of people with a driver’s license decreased between 2011 and 2014, across all age groups. For people aged 16 to 44, that percentage has been decreasing steadily  since 1983.

It’s especially pronounced for the teens—in 2014, just 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds had a license, a 47-percent decrease from 1983, when 46.2 percent did. And at the tail end of the teen years, 69 percent of 19-year-olds had licenses in 2014, compared to 87.3 percent in 1983, a 21-percent decrease. (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/the-decline-of-the-drivers-license/425169/)

Cars no longer represent freedom; they now represent a hassle.

But with the growth of driverless cars, the social divide is only to grow ever wider.

Entities such as Zip Cars, CarShare and others are ever more popular, especially in urban / suburban regions, with subscribers signing up for an annual membership, reserving a car online and then simply using the vehicle and returning it back to the parking lot / ‘pod’ from whence it was parked. No need for insurance, parking fees or car maintenance.

So getting back to that insurance point,…

The older generation is going to push back against the driverless car concept (the idea of not having control of one’s driving directly challenges some folks notions of control within their lives).  And with that, insurance companies are likely to raise rates for the ‘privilege’ of driving your own vehicle. Going forward, in time however, car insurance will gradually disappear as folks will opt out for ‘regular’ cars and take the driverless car option, leaving the traditional cars as mementos found in museums or driven by selective ‘driving club’ members.

Driverless cars do indeed offer advantages after all.

But not having your own car (as insurance and registration will, over time, make it more costly to drive the ‘traditional’ car) and becoming dependent on vehicles that are ‘collectively controlled’ comes with other costs – such as subscription services to the entities driving / controlling your vehicle; maintenance will still be an issue and above all, your credit rating will have a direct impact on vehicle availability and access.

Credit rating?

Think about it: if you can’t get a credit card, how are you expected to pay for your driverless vehicle?

True, one could ‘buy’ their driverless vehicle, but it, like other regular recurring costs – cable TV, your phone, electric bill, etc. – will evolve a reoccurring cost and likely driverless cars will become something focusing primarily on folks who reside within a certain socio-economic classification. People who are engaged in ‘alternative’ lifestyles are not likely to secure driverless cars unless they can ensure that nobody can monitor their movements. Meanwhile, the age-old practice of paying for a months car insurance in advance just to get the insurance card, and then forego paying the reminder will not be possible with a driverless car. Similarly, it’s arguable if driverless vehicle manufacturers are going to rush into the weak credit market (although it could be possible that we’ll see those used driverless vehicles parked in the used car lots found along side of the strip malls and created highways). Likely though, driving soon be even more limited to those able to afford the costs, while other locations will be ‘redlined’ from vehicle access.

Meanwhile, your movements will be readily accessible to court requests and subpoenas. Employers will likely be able to readily view your driving history, focusing on where you frequent, how often and how long. Spouses seeking alimony and/or opposing counsel seeking support for their legal arguments against you will be able to view your history and find ways to use it against you. Think your privacy will be protected? In this day and age, you’d better think again. With a private vehicle, you can do and go as you wish, but with the growth of driverless vehicles, this will become all part of the new paradigm.

Time will only tell, but in a couple of decades, stories like ‘Blue Highways’ and ‘On The Road’ will harkened back to the bygone, romanticized notions of freedom attained through driving. And outlaws – along with folks possessing notions of privacy – are going to find it even harder to drive with security knowing they’re not being tracked and/or monitored.

But hey: you’ll be able to keep up on your email and Facebook as you ride along.


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