Driverless cars could save lives, kill businesses

Tue Apr 26, 2016 9:26am EDT
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(This story accompanies a Special Report, "Inside Google's quest to shape the rules of the driverless road")

By Joseph White and Paul Ingrassia

DETROIT - April 26 (Reuters) - The automotive and tech companies pursuing the driverless car share a utopian belief: Autonomous vehicles will benefit society, eventually saving most of the nearly 33,000 people each year killed in road accidents in America alone.

"If the situation was reversed, and we had automated vehicles today and someone proposed to let people drive cars, what would the reaction be?" asks Glen De Vos, vice president of global engineering for Delphi Automotive PLC, a supplier of driverless-car technology.

"You would be basically asking that 33,000 deaths per year be allowed on highways as part of a policy plan. There's no way on earth anybody would accept it."

The big win for society wouldn't be big, or even a win, for everybody, however. There will be losers and winners.

Take automakers. Eventually, if fully driverless cars ("L4" vehicles under the American government's classification system) can be summoned with a smartphone just like Uber cars today, many people might forgo car ownership. Or families in developed nations might own one car instead of two.

That could be a financial boon for families. In the United States, cars are usually the second-largest item in the household budget, even though studies show they sit idle 90% of the time. But automakers would suffer.

If driverless cars catch on, U.S. car sales could plunge 40% in the next 25 years, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a report last year. General Motors and Ford Motor Co, he added, would have to cut their combined number of assembly plants in the U.S. and Canada to 17 from the current 30. Some 25,000 auto workers would lose their jobs.   Continued...