WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SOCIAL IMPACTS THAT AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES MAY HAVE

Autonomous vehicles promise to significantly change personal transportation and society. They have the potential for both positive and negative social impacts. Some of the key social impacts that may occur include:

Mobility for All – Autonomous vehicles could help increase mobility for many groups that currently face transportation barriers. The elderly and disabled who cannot drive would gain independent mobility if they could get a ride in a self-driving vehicle. Those too young to drive, such as teenagers, could use AVs for transportation. For lower-income households without a car, AVs may provide an affordable mobility option through shared ride-hailing services. This could help address “mobility poverty” issues and reduce social exclusion for many. Ensuring access for all groups will require thoughtful planning and policies.

Changes to Urban Design – With the ability to do useful non-driving tasks while being transported, people may choose to live further from city centers in smaller urban or suburban communities. This could affect urban growth boundaries and design. On the other hand, AVs could encourage denser urbanization if more people use shared autonomous vehicles and personal car ownership declines. Either way, widespread AV use would likely influence planning for future communities, housing, and transportation infrastructure. The impacts on urban sprawl or density are still uncertain and would depend on how the technology develops.

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Job Impacts – Many driving occupations like long-haul trucking, transit bus driving, and taxi/ride-hailing services are at high risk of significant job disruption due to AVs. This could displace many drivers from their livelihoods. Though new jobs may be created to support AV operations, the transition may be difficult for some. There will also be effects on industries like auto insurance that employ drivers. Policy support and retraining programs will likely be needed to help drivers and communities adapt. Autonomous vehicles may also create new jobs like vehicle operators to remotely assist AVs when needed.

Societal Cost Savings – In addition to time savings from personal productivity, widespread autonomous vehicles could lead to large reductions in costs to society. Reduced traffic accidents that result from human error could save thousands of lives and billions annually in economic impacts and health costs. Fewer parking spaces may also reduce urban land costs. Decreased congestion from smoother traffic flow and higher vehicle carrying capacity could boost productivity in urban economies. Lower individual transportation costs may also free up consumer spending for other purposes. Achieving these large savings would require enormous deployment of AVs.

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Impacts on Social Interaction – Driving currently provides an opportunity for social interaction for many. In contrast, traveling alone or with strangers in an autonomous vehicle could reduce the chances for incidental social contact compared to carpooling or taking public transit. Over time, this may subtly influence social norms. However, AVs may also spur new kinds of mobile social interactions, like telepresence applications that allow passengers to “interact” with remote contacts. There could also be networking opportunities for solo passengers sharing rides.

Environmental Issues – Widespread adoption of electric and high-occupancy autonomous vehicles has the potential to significantly reduce transportation’s carbon and air pollution impacts. Electric AVs combined with renewable energy grids could help decarbonize mobility. Fewer personally owned vehicles could also reduce manufacturing impacts. Any rebound effect from increased travel could counteract some of these benefits if not properly managed. Autonomous vehicles also pose challenges like how to ethically program them to respond in scenarios requiring value judgments. Developers will need to consider environmental and social equity impacts throughout deployment.

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This covers some of the major social impact areas that autonomous vehicles may influence if widely adopted. The actual impacts will depend greatly on how the technology develops, how it gets deployed, and the supporting policies and regulation that get established. Autonomous vehicles have huge potential to both positively and negatively change society, so carefully managing this transition will be important to maximize benefits and mitigate drawbacks. Autonomous vehicles appear poised to substantially reshape personal transportation and many aspects of social life in the coming decades.

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