Every major technological breakthrough is usually followed by mass adoption and then a series of changes in public lifestyle that may or may not have been envisaged before. This was the case at the beginning of the 20th century when we replaced horses with motor vehicles as the primary means of transportation – something which triggered a series of economic and social adjustments.
History could repeat itself when driverless cars become commercially available and turn into the new dominant way of public transportation. The changes it would bring to our world would be massive.
Each year, traffic accidents cause a loss of $871billion and 33,000 lives just alone in the United States of America. According to the Federalist's Dan McLaughlin, "a truly driverless road would not be accident-free, given the number of accidents that would still be caused by mechanical and computer errors, weather conditions, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and sheer random chance, but it would make the now-routine loss of life and limb on the roads far rarer."
Contemporary car designs are the way they are because the vehicle has to be driven by a human being. The windshield is made of glass primarily to improve the driver's vision. With driverless cars, "a large and vulnerable piece of glass" - become less necessary. Drivers will be able to sit wherever they'd like in their cars, which could make car interiors more like mobile lounges than like cockpits.
End Of Car Ownership
Do you know why most people buy and own cars instead of using taxi cabs? It's because they can't afford the cost they'd have to pay to the driver of taxi for his services. It's just financially irresponsible to use taxis when you can drive your own car. But driverless cars won't need any human involvement, meaning that the cost of rented cars would lower down significantly. Hence, there won't be any need of buying cars outright, and so the concept of car ownership as we know it might come to an end.
Drop In Legal Age to Operate a Motor Vehicle
The point of legal driving age is not to prevent underage kids from using cars for transportation but to prevent them from driving the vehicle themselves. With driving out of the way, the age required to operate a driverless car would potentially be reduced as well. Same could be the case with the legal drinking age too as preventing drunk driving was one of the prime justifications for the US-wide setting minimum age to purchase alcohol at 21 years old.
On a down side, if there remains no need for taxi drivers, where would they go? There may be a slight increase in demand of computer operators but it would be far smaller to cover up for the impact that out-of-job drivers would cause to the overall employment levels.
Reduction In Crime
GPS-tagged cars will be easier to track, making life difficult for fugitives and car thieves. The FBI has a different prediction in this regard though. It is of the opinion that driverless cars would enable bad actors "to conduct tasks that require use of both hands or taking one’s eyes off the road," which could make the law enforcement agencies task more difficult.
More Traveling Means More Traffic
“U.S. history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live further from things,” said Ken Laberteaux, the senior principal scientist for Toyota’s North American team, in an interview with Bloomberg at the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco last week. “The pattern we’ve seen for a century is people turn more speed into more travel, rather than maybe saying, ‘I’m going to use my reduced travel time by spending more time with my family.’”
With automated driving, the potential for flying cars and three-dimensional roads also becomes a lot less scary and more a matter of simply solving the technological challenge. Perhaps, the tech wizards of our world would think about that unrealized dream in the near future. For now, we'll be content with driverless cars.