Imagine a National Rifle Association….but instead of fighting for the right to own a gun, the lobby fights for the right to be behind the wheel.
There are so many Americans in love with driving today, a future dominated by driverles cars may not be as certain as some think it is.
The numbers tell it all: more than 80 percent of American drivers report enjoying driving somewhere between “a great deal” and “a moderate amount”. Only 20 percent say they don’t like driving at all.
Eighty percent is a lot of Americans. A lot of Americans who may resist giving up the steering wheel.
There’s a ven diagram somewhere where the overlap is composed of people who want a driverless car future and people who think capitalism must go in order to get there. Maybe they hate driving as much as they hate capitalism.
Ironically, those who think we have to kill capitalism to get the future they want may actually later have capitalism to thank for making it possible.
If you want capitalism to end, it’s highly likely you also think consumerism is among the top ten evil human inventions. There’s a lot of compelling evidence. But we owe consumerism for every creature comfort we enjoy today.
Consumerism can’t happen without commercialism, i.e. marketing, the process by which we are
brainwashed encouraged to want and need. Marketing is textbook capitalism: a capitalist has to somehow communicate to those with a need that his product can satisfy said need.
Otherwise he can’t make his profit.
There are a lot of people out there betting that they can make a lot of profit with driverless cars. That’s obvious. Is it bad that driverless cars, should they become mainstream, are also going to make a lot of people, or maybe a few people, very rich?
So what might that path to riches and driverless-car-dominated highways look like?
Remember that 20 percent of Americans who don’t like driving at all? Well, twenty percent of Americans is still a lot of Americans. And they spend a lot of money.
Could some of that spending be on a service providing the benefits of driving without having to drive? Like “driving as a service”?
The 20 percent of Americans who don’t like driving is composed of lower income Americans, women and older people.
Logically, it seems “older people” would be the largest share of the 20 percent.
And…more old people are joining the ranks of people not able to drive because of one thing or another, usually age-related. I know, for example, a guy whose mother-in-law, on the brink of senility, waged a mighty war against giving up both her car and car keys even though her doctor and her adult kids agreed having her on the road was a danger to others.
But the beneift to society of having older people chauffered by driverless cars could be compelling. Compelling for people too old to drive too.
According to the Automobile Association of America (AAA) people classified as seniors are safe drivers. Compared to other ages, they wear safety belts more often, observe speed limits, and don’t drink and drive as much.
However, they are more likely to be injured or killed in traffic crashes due to age-related vulnerabilities, such as more fragile bones. Heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses contribute to death-related to car accidents involving senior adults.
Some interesting factoids about senior drivers:
- 80 percent of people in their 70s suffer from arthritis, crippling inflammation of the joints, which makes turning, flexing and twisting painful. Of course, driving demands all these motions.
- Weaker muscles, reduced flexibility and limited range of motion restrict senior drivers’ ability to grip and turn the steering wheel, press the accelerator or brake, or reach to open doors and windows. Espeically true in emergencies.
- More than 75 percent of drivers age 65 or older report using one or more medications, but less than one-third acknowledged awareness of the potential impact of the medications on driving performance. That’s scary.
- In 2009, 33 million licensed drivers were over age 65 – a 20 percent increase from 1999. And by the year 2030, 70 million Americans in the U.S. will be over age 65 – and 85 to 90 percent of them will be licensed to drive.
- In 2009, more than 58 percent of deaths in crashes involving drivers over age 65 were older drivers themselves and 12 percent were their passengers. Twenty-eight percent of these deaths were occupants of other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. By comparison, in the same year 40 percent of deaths in crashes involving at least one driver younger than age 21 were attributed to the younger drivers themselves and 23 percent were their passengers. Thirty-six percent were occupants of other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.
AAA says seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years. While it’s great to hear most older drivers recognize and avoid situations where their limitations put them at risk, these facts offer a compelling argument for introducing driverless cars.
Those people still need to get around. A driverless car service would likely appeal to those people.
Some might say “well wait, once all those old people who have no insight about the future die, the younger genrations will step in, bringing with them driverless car and other future technologies.
Not so fast.
The numbers persist even for the younger-set, even as they populate car sharing, car pooling, bike commuting and other altenative transportation means. Fully 84 percent of young people aged 18-29 enjoy driving somewhere between “a great deal” and “a moderate amount”. Just like the old geezers like me.
All this might mean driverless car-dominated American highways are a long way off….unless marketers capitalize on American sentiment expressed by the 20 percent.
And that might be easier than initially imagined.
The same can be said for enticing low income people, particularly those who can’t afford the costs of personal car ownership. There are a lot of potential pitfalls here, including creating a “driver divide”: where those who can afford a car enjoy a kind of freedom those who cannot, cannot.
But the cost convenience for low income people of only paying for transportation they need, instead of paying for surplus transportation represented by an idle car on curb, or parking space, could be compelling as a marketing strategy.
Paying only for what you need is commonplace in the world by the way. In places such as The Philippines, where the per capita income is much lower than in the United States, it’s crazy even contemplating buying a Costco-sized box of Tide.
Instead, Philipinos can purchase sachets, or single-use size quantities of laundry soap and other sundries. Driverless cars can introduce the same concept to transportation for America’s low income community as a marketing/introduction strategy, making driverless cars no longer a frivolous technological curiosity potentially threatening America’s way of life, but instead a necessity for America’s least prosperous and least able.
Catering to people who might most benefit from driverless cars might eliminate something akin to an NRA-version of AAA rising up to defend the “freedoms of driving”.
Too bad we can’t find a similar approach to introduce a more rational approach to gun control.