Driverless cars are heading our way. A breathless 7-part series on Forbes analyzed the staggering socioeconomic impact of driverless cars not impacting with other cars – or people. When you take into account all the industries affected and the residual effects, Forbes estimates that in the US alone, driverless cars will drive the economy by $2 trillion dollars annually. That’s a lot of incentive to put the driverless pedal to the metal.
According to industry analysts, about the only thing these AI vehicles will hit are personal injury lawyers – in the pocket. Human error accounts for approximately 90 percent of the 5.5 million motor vehicle accidents in the U.S that occurred in 2009 involving 9.5 million vehicles. Almost 34,000 people were killed and another 2.2 million injured. Once people are removed from the equation, collisions are predicted to fall to precipitously low levels. Which is good news for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, but not so much for the bottom line of emergency rooms, highway patrol officers, chauffeurs and taxi drivers, insurance claim adjusters and the companies they work for, and most importantly – at least as far as this readership is concerned – personal injury lawyers.
Once these autonomous autos become a significant player on the vehicular landscape (they only have to reach 25 percent market penetration for accidents to dramatically drop), and that day is expected to arrive sooner than later, some observers predict that car insurance will just… disappear. Because, well, car-induced injuries will go the way of the horse-and-buggy.
Personal injury lawyers will find themselves in a particularly awkward spot. After all, there are plenty of vocations that harm either the environment or workers, like mining coal, construction, almost anything involving firearms – but they all have effective lobbyists labeling any attempt to rein them in as “job killers.” It’s not a particularly long-range or high-minded argument, but politicians pay attention. However, it’s pretty much impossible to argue against driverless cars on the grounds that they put lawyers out of work because they don’t maim enough innocents.
Still, I’m skeptical things will be as bleak as these forecasts predict. Even supposing these contraptions operate close to perfectly, it’s hard to imagine them anticipating every rabid driver and crazy situation out there. And besides, if it’s one thing we know from watching “America’s Funniest Videos,” “Tosh 2.0,” and innumerable YouTube uploads, it’s that there are countless bozos on the loose determined to undermine and overcome all “safe” obstacles in their way, in their quest to find new ways to harm, hurt, wound, injure, impair, mutilate or otherwise damage themselves. And those are only the idiots who get caught on tape! Nimrods like these may look upon safe, driverless cars as a challenge to cause even more mayhem
For another thing, to steal a phrase from Charlton Heston, a sizable chunk of roadsters will only relinquish the steering wheel when it’s pulled from their “cold, dead hands.” Whether they just love driving, are control freaks, or are convinced driverless cars are part of a vast government conspiracy to… to… well, what’s the difference?
And then there’s the basic fact that fewer drivers, designated or otherwise, means more drinkers. With a “responsible” car in charge, some college kids, already feeling invulnerable, will have the perfect excuse and environment to get a head start on getting drunk before arriving at a party. Hence, leading to more fights and other asinine behavior in which someone ends up requiring medical attention. So personal injury lawyers, keep your heads up: When one door closes, the technology gods open a window.