Auto, Tech Leaders Explore a Future Without Drivers

Speakers at the Los Angeles Auto Show said they believe that as vehicles learn to drive themselves, fewer people will own cars.

by / November 24, 2015

Usually, the Los Angeles Auto Show is about showing off the newest cars. But this year’s event kicked off with a look into what cars will become — and industry players see a future full of change.

Speakers at the event see self-driving cars as inevitable, according to coverage from Sci-Tech Today. Along with that, many see a shift away from personal car ownership and toward the use of on-demand transports. John Zimmer, co-founder of the ridesharing service Lyft, said he doesn’t plan on his daughter owning a car by the time she’s legally old enough to drive.

He said the statistics bear out that the next generation is already shifting away from owning cars: Less than 70 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds have a driver’s license, according to the article. In the future, he said, most will simply hail autonomous vehicles that can drive them cheaply from place to place.

With fewer personal cars roaming about, Zimmer said there wouldn't be as much need for parking lots and garages, which could be turned into business space or parks instead.

Eric Spiegelman, president of the Los Angeles Taxicab Commission, said during the event that self-driving taxis will be part of that equation. Without drivers in the front seat, he said, autonomous taxis could provide transportation at a cost of 25 cents per mile — making any trip of fewer than 7 miles cheaper than a bus ride.

These cars, he said, could drive 100,000 miles a year, double what a human taxi driver can do, and could drive more easily at night.

Autonomous taxis would also mean a solution to problems such as a lack of transportation in low-income neighborhoods where human drivers are sometimes afraid to go, Spiegelman said.

Cars are on their way toward autonomy. Tesla Motors has rolled out an “autopilot” feature that allows the car to maintain lanes and change lanes on the highway. GM has set its goals on introducing semi-autonomous features in 2016. Many other companies, notably Google, have been testing out autonomous vehicles on the roads of California’s Bay Area and Austin, Texas.

But tech and auto executives at the show pointed out that there are still big challenges to overcome before autonomous cars are viable options for mass adoption. Sensors need to be able to deal with all kinds of road — not just highways, which is the intended use for Tesla’s autopilot mode.

Insurers, automakers and tech firms will also need to hash out who will bear the responsibility for crashes. Tesla founder Elon Musk, for instance, has told drivers that the company will not take responsibility for crashes in autopilot mode.

There’s also the issue of inclement weather. A recent study on autonomous car crashes from the University of Michigan found that public records of AV crashes were all in places devoid of snow.

“Their exposure has not yet been representative of the exposure for conventional vehicles,” the study reads.