Daily Factoid: Why Boomers will drive the market for self-driving cars

There’s been a flurry of media coverage about autonomous vehicles, aka self-driving cars. 

  • Last summer, Nissan announced that it will offer its first self-driving car by 2020. Volvo’s also promised autonomous vehicles by that date. 
  • The auto industry consulting firm IHS has estimated that by 2035, nearly 10% of new cars will be self-driving.
  • So far, self-driving cars have proven to be safer than human drivers. Google’s research vehicles have driven over 500,000 miles on public roads without causing an accident. 
  • The Eno Center for Transportation—a sort of automotive think-tank—recently estimated that if even 10% of the cars on the road were self-driving, 1,100 lives would be saved every year.

Eno’s recent report was written by Eno Fellow Daniel J. Fagnant and Kara Kockelman, a prof at the University of Texas. Fagnant and Kockelman finally at least touched on something we here at re: noted last year, which is that this technology has huge implications for aging drivers. 

The report cites Dr. Joanne Wood’s 2002 study, ‘Aging Driving and Vision’ in the journal Clinical and Experimental Optometry. Dr. Wood observed that “many drivers attempt to cope with such physical limitations through self-regulation, avoiding heavy traffic, unfamiliar roads, night-time driving, and poor weather, while others stop driving altogether” and draws the logical conclusion that “AVs could facilitate personal independence and mobility, while enhancing safety”.

That’s true, but a colossal understatement, and here’s why: The septuagenarian drivers who Dr. Wood studied over a decade ago—people of my mom’s generation—didn’t see getting their driver’s license as an essential rite of passage into adulthood and independence. So when they “self-regulate” or decide to stop driving altogether, the decision is not freighted with psychological weight.

By contrast, Baby Boomers are emotionally attached to their cars in a completely different way. Even the auto industry has, thus far, dramatically underestimated the significance to Boomers of AVs that can preserve their independence and mobility. (Perhaps the reason for that is that the engineers working on AVs are themselves still young, as are the auto industry’s marketing analysts.)