The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles has the potential to generate significant economic benefits. Here are some of the key ways autonomous vehicles could positively impact the economy:
Increased Productivity – One of the largest potential economic benefits is an increase in productivity from people being able to work or be entertained during their commute instead of having to focus on driving. With an autonomous vehicle, people could work, read, sleep or be otherwise productive during what is otherwise unproductive travel time. This could lead to huge increases in productivity nationwide. Some estimates suggest the increased productivity from autonomous vehicles could add over $1 trillion to the U.S. economy per year.
Reduced Transportation Costs – Autonomous vehicles are estimated to lower the costs of transportation significantly. Without needing to pay human drivers, the cost of ride-hailing or ride-sharing services using autonomous vehicles could decrease substantially. Some estimates show ride prices dropping by as much as 60% compared to today’s ride-hailing prices. Lower transportation costs would free up consumer and business spending that could then be used elsewhere in the economy. Widespread car-sharing using autonomous vehicles could also reduce car ownership rates and associated costs like car insurance, parking, and vehicle maintenance.
Logistics and Delivery Efficiencies – Autonomous vehicles are well-suited for logistics and delivery applications due to their ability to operate without needing rest. This could significantly cut the costs of shipping goods locally as well as long-haul trucking. Autonomous trucks removing the need to pay drivers could reduce shipping costs by over 30% according to some estimates. Delivery robots and drones could also handle last mile delivery more efficiently. The reduction in logistics and delivery costs could provide savings that get passed on to consumers and help lower the costs of goods.
Road Congestion Relief – When autonomous vehicles become ubiquitous, they have the potential to help reduce road congestion considerably through features like platooning and optimal lane selection based on real-time traffic data. Some analyses suggest autonomous vehicles could increase total roadway capacity by up to 273% through more efficient vehicle operation. This would reduce time lost to congestion which amounted to over $160 billion in 2019 according to one study. With reduced congestion, there would also be lower vehicle maintenance costs and reduced fuel consumption. The economy-wide savings from less traffic could total over $1 trillion per year according to some forecasts.
Increased Road Safety – Studies have shown autonomous vehicles have the potential to dramatically reduce car accidents since they can avoid human driver mistakes like distracted driving or misjudgment. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over 90% of traffic accidents are caused by human error. Accident prevention from autonomous vehicles could save thousands of lives and help reduce insurance claims by billions per year. The economic cost of motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. exceeded $880 billion in 2010 alone according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Savings from fewer traffic accidents could provide substantial economic benefits.
More Mobility for All – The ability of self-driving vehicles to transport those unable to drive such as the elderly, young, or disabled could help provide more economic opportunities for these groups. Autonomous vehicles may make it possible for some people to participate in the workforce or consumer economy who otherwise could not reliably drive themselves. There would also be less reliance on more expensive para-transit systems. Ensuring appropriate mobility for all segments of society promotes broader economic participation and output.
Job Creation – While autonomous vehicles may displace some driving jobs, they are also projected to create many new jobs to build, maintain and operate the next-generation vehicle systems. One estimate from PwC found autonomous vehicle adoption could result in the net gain of up to 21 million new jobs in vehicle productivity, software, Computer Hardware, infrastructure construction, and more. The development and deployment of autonomous technology also creates opportunities for high-wage, high-skilled employment across many industries from engineers to data analysts.
The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles has great potential for generating huge efficiency and economic gains through increased productivity, lower transportation costs, reduced traffic congestion, improved safety, new mobility, and net job creation. Most forecasts estimate the economic impacts could amount to over $1 trillion annually in the U.S. alone. If autonomous vehicle technologies are able to realize most of their anticipated benefits, they could provide sweeping improvements to economic productivity and opportunity.