Governments around the world are working on how they can deliver AVs’ anticipated societal benefits. These include the prospect of much-improved road safety, more efficient public transport and freight services, and cleaner cities with more room for people and green spaces. There are also potential challenges to mitigate, including big changes to labor markets and industries including motor insurance, privacy and cybersecurity risks, and greater suburban sprawl.
1.35 million people were killed on the world’s roads in 2016, up from 1.25 million in 2013, according to the World Health Organization, with studies suggesting that human error causes at least nine in 10 accidents.3 Removing human error risk by moving to AVs should therefore deliver an enormous reduction in vehicle-related deaths, something that is important to remember, in light of the first death caused by the testing of AVs, as well as one from the use of a partially autonomous car, in 2018. Vehicle makers looking to reassure the public about AVs could follow the aviation industry, where aircraft makers have embedded safety in their processes.
Despite the focus on when driverless cars will be available, autonomous minibuses are already providing passenger services in countries including Norway, Sweden and France, and AVs are likely to be as important in transforming public transport as they will be for private cars. They will allow public transport providers to move from fixed-route, fixed-timetable bus services to on-demand autonomous alternatives, which would efficiently and effectively take people from door to door. Freight is set to be another early adopter of AVs. The Netherlands, for example, is working with Germany and Belgium on establishing ‘truck platooning’, where one human-driven vehicle leads a convoy of autonomous ones, on major roads.
AVs should lead to much cleaner and efficient use of roads, as well as making them safer. Much of this will result from the shift from fossil fuels to electric vehicles (EVs), with most AVs expected to run on electricity. In September 2018, the United Kingdom joined Canada, China, Finland, France, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden in pledging that at least 30 percent of new vehicles sold will be EVs by 2030.9 Norway has already exceeded this target, and enters the AVRI this year in third place, partly as a result of its advanced adoption of EVs. One of the greatest benefits in efficient road use will come from public authorities being able to track and optimize the flow of vehicles.
AVs will have effects far beyond the road transport sector, not least because almost every organization makes use of transport to deliver its goods and move its staff or clients. There are likely to be some surprising industry-specific impacts (see box). Insurance may see particularly big changes. A 2014 actuarial analysis by KPMG in the US suggested that the personal automotive insurance sector could shrink by 40 percent within 25 years, with the number of accidents per vehicle dropping by 80 percent. In 2017, the Bank of England predicted a fall in motor insurance premiums of 21–41 percent by 2040.