What Do Police, Lawyers, and Car Companies All Have in Common?

Source: Google
Source: Google

Self-driving cars are about as exciting an innovation as any, and many people — both consumers and industry insiders alike — are patiently waiting to see where the technology will go. Though most people seem to assume that autonomous vehicles will be the future of transportation, there are still those who are looking on with a feeling of dread.

So, who’s feeling the pressure? Law enforcement agencies, auto manufacturers, and lawyers have all found themselves in the line of fire, and all with good reason.

As Google has paved the way for self-driving vehicles to become a reality, business and government leaders have been watching carefully. The fact of the matter is, self-driving cars will present huge issues for a number of different industries, and that includes the government, or law enforcement agencies, to be specific.

Self-driving cars have been shown to be incredibly safe and efficient thus far (although there are still several issues to work out). That seems like incredibly good news for public officials and taxpayers, as safer drivers tend to lead to the need for less policing and fewer resources spent on incident response. But it’s also a boon to law enforcement budgets, as autonomous cars have logged over 700,000 miles on public roads without receiving a citation. Those citations are often meant to boost revenues and budgets. Though at one time traffic tickets were a sort of behavior-influencing policy measure, they have since become somewhat of a tax for using public roadways by paying for policing and emergency services. If every car on the road is autonomous, and not behaving in a way that warrants a citation, obviously ticket revenues will take a significant hit.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), that decline in revenues for law enforcement could tally up to more than $6.2 billion.

Along with police departments facing issues as a result of more law-abiding forces behind the wheel, others in the legal arena are also worried about their future prospects as self-driving cars enter the market. Personal-injury lawyers make a living from sorting out the results of auto accidents, and safer transportation options would ultimately mean a decline in potential clients, if the technology proves to be as safe as it reported to be.

Eric Turkewitz, a personal injury lawyer from New York, recently wrote about how his industry is threatened in a recent blog post. “With human error crashes reduced by software that automatically stops or slows the car, the number of broken bodies and cars will be reduced. The number of deaths will be reduced. Your insurance premiums will be (theoretically) reduced,” he writes. “And that means the need for my services as a personal injury attorney will be reduced.”

But Turkewitz, despite having his profession threatened by advances in technology, still sees Google’s new technology as a good thing overall, and is even rooting for the company. “Has anyone ever cheered being put out of business? I am. Because I drive, too,” he says. “From a raw safety standpoint, I am left with no other choice than to cheer the company on. Go ahead, Google, make my day by bringing on safety and putting us personal injury attorneys out of business.”

While Turkewitz and possibly others in the legal profession may be cheering Google on, car companies are probably not as enthused.

We’ve discussed before how autonomous vehicles may actually lead to lower rates of private ownership, along with increased investment in public transportation infrastructure and other factors. And that is something that car companies should be very worried about.

Toyota Prius hybrid model cars for sale
Source: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

There are a slew of reasons why auto manufacturers should be worried about the coming autonomous revolution, but Business Insider does an excellent job of distilling the major concerns down to three central points: Google’s self-driving car is a software platform, the car doesn’t need to go fast, and the fact that it is relatively uncomplicated when compared to many other modern vehicles.

Obviously, there are plenty of details to dig into with Business Insider’s observations, but they are right on the money. Google’s autonomous car is much more than just a new way to get around. It truly will be a whole new platform — with software system updates in real time — that will also be user-friendly due to its simplicity. There will definitely be consumers who aren’t interested, as they’d rather keep control in their own hands, or have a vehicle that can perform at high levels. But for the masses who simply need to get to work and the grocery store, or even back from the bar after a night of drinking, Google’s car looks like a pretty awesome choice compared to what else is on the market.

With all of those matters considered, there’s also the fact that less collisions on the road could lead to fewer purchases, as consumers’ vehicles will last longer. That translates directly to a hit on the bottom line, unless manufacturers can find a way to keep consumers coming back with newer and greater innovations. Though some companies like Volvo and Mercedes are effectively trying to jump the gun and incorporate self-driving capabilities in future models, it’s unclear how other manufacturers will adapt.  But one thing is clear: They’ll need to figure it out soon. Information technology research firm Gartner says that in 15 years, autonomous cars will make up around 25% of the passenger vehicle population.

Assuming that things would only snowball from that point, within a generation, it’s not too crazy to think that all vehicles will eventually be autonomous. That’s a bummer for police departments, lawyers, car companies, and those who love to drive. But it’s also welcome news for automotive safety advocates, technology companies, and the general public, who will see benefits in the form of safer cities, more efficient transportation, and less gridlock.