Driverless cars (also called autonomous vehicles) will soon become a reality.

Here are the implications:

1. The very notion of car ownership will be challenged.Cars are among the most expensive things that people own, yet they sit idle for 96% of the time.This is justified by the convenience of having access to a car whenever you need it. These days, however, you can summon a car at will using a smartphone app.  Google reckons that shared, self-driving taxis will have utilisation rates of more than 75%. If so, a much smaller number of cars would be needed to move the same number of people around.Self-driving cars could, in short, reduce urban vehicle numbers by 90%

2. All this will be transformational for car-makers. They would end up selling cars to fleet operators, rather than to individual drivers. The value in car making will shift from hardware to software & from products to services.That would shake existing car makers, just as smartphones upended Nokia & Kodak. Already, Google, Uber & Tesla are muscling in.

3. Carmaking is not the only industry that faces upheaval. So does car insurance-worth $198 billion a year in America alone-as cover switches from millions of consumers to a handful of fleet operators.

4. Automation would be bad news for taxi drivers. Passengers would spend less time waiting, & would pay less per mile, because paying drivers is the biggest cost for taxi operators. No wonder Uber is keen on driverless vehicles. “When there is no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere is cheaper than owning a vehicle.” Other drivers stand to lose as well. A mining giant is already using 53 self-driving lorries. The political problems will be too many.

5. Autonomous vehicles would be a lot safer. Today, 94% of car accidents are due to human error & the 3 leading causes are alcohol, speeding & distractions.Accidents kill around 1.2m people a year, equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day. Driverless vehicles cannot drink alcohol, break the speed limit or get distracted by a text message, so accidents should occur much less often. Google’s driverless vehicles have driven 1.8m miles in the past 6 years & have been involved in 12 minor accidents, none of which caused injury & none of which were the car’s fault. Because of this, localities will insist on driverless care instead of with drivers.

6. As well as being safer, driverless cars would make traffic flow more smooth. They will not brake erratically, can be routed to avoid congestion & would travel close together to increase road capacity. A study has revealed that  a 90% penetration of driverless cars would be equivalent to a doubling of road capacity & would cut delays by 60% on highways & 15% on other roads.

7. The passengers in driverless cars would result in productivity gains worth millions. Children & the elderly & the disabled would gain more independence.

8. With cars in constant use less parking space would be needed. Parking accounts for as much as 24%  of the area in American cities. Some locations plan for 3.5 parking spaces per car. In urban business districts, people travel 30% more just searching for parking spaces. By freeing the parking spaces, more people will be able to live in city centres; workers can live farther away as they can sleep during the commute.

9. Car lovers would mourn the passing of machines that have become icons of personal freedom. This is illusory. The empty roads seen in car advertisements are not most people’s experience of driving. In a driverless future, people will come to wonder why they tolerated such a high rate of road deaths, & why they spent so much on machines that mostly sat unused.