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The self-driving car How Self-Driving Cars Work: The Nuts and Bolts Behind Google's Autonomous Car Program How Self-Driving Cars Work: The Nuts and Bolts Behind Google's Autonomous Car Program Being able to commute back and forth to work while sleeping, eating, or catching up on your favorite blogs is a concept that is equally appealing and seemingly far-off and too futuristic to actually happen. Read More is technology’s biggest gift to civilization since the birth of the Internet. It’ll be a few decades before driverless cars become the norm Here's How We'll Get to a World Filled With Driverless Cars Here's How We'll Get to a World Filled With Driverless Cars Driving is a tedious, dangerous, and demanding task. Could it one day be automated by Google's driverless car technology? Read More , but when that day comes, it will be glorious. Robot cars will restore mobility to the young, elderly, and disabled. They’ll make travel cheaper and safer. In short, they’re going to change the world.

This impending revolution comes with one huge drawback: robot cars are going to destroy a lot of jobs.

With companies like Tesla already pushing for autonomous features as early as this coming summer Tesla to Release Autonomous Car Features This Summer Tesla to Release Autonomous Car Features This Summer Tesla owners may get a peek at self-driving features sooner than expected. Tesla has its own autonomous car program, and they want to push some of their software to end users this summer. Read More , the threat against American jobs is immediate. But just how many jobs will be lost? And is this economic loss justified? The answers may surprise you.

Which Jobs Are At Risk, Exactly?

Not long ago, the first self-driving truck First Autonomous Truck Announced: What Does This Mean for Truckers? First Autonomous Truck Announced: What Does This Mean for Truckers? Read More was released into the wild. Freightliner’s Inspiration, with its ceremonial license plate of AU 010, is the biggest milestone to be hit since the autonomous vehicle discussion began. It’s only legal in Nevada at the moment, and it has a human driver as backup, but it’s a monumental step just the same.

But the Inspiration is not a good sign for current truck drivers in the United States. Check out this map of the most common profession by state, courtesy of NPR:


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That’s a LOT of truck drivers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 1.6 million American truck drivers in 2014 earning a mean income of $42,000. That’s more than half a percent of the country, and $67 billion dollars in income – about 0.3% of the US GDP.

These new trucks aren’t completely autonomous yet, but the technology is going to get there sooner rather than later. And when that day arrives, those truck drivers will need to find something else to do. When you include delivery truck operators, which numbered around 800,000 in 2014, we end up with 2.4 million people who may be out of a job in the next decade or two.


But the bigger topic of conversation when it comes to self-driving cars and their impact How Self-Driving Cars Will Change Transportation Forever How Self-Driving Cars Will Change Transportation Forever As we move into 2015, the question is no longer whether self-driving cars will replace manually driven cars, but how quickly they'll take over. Read More ? Service drivers. Mainly we’re talking about taxi drivers — and more recently, Uber drivers — but also included in the conversation are people like bus drivers.

As autonomous vehicle technology improves, it’s easy to imagine a world where these vehicles have no need for a human operator. This would leave the following people jobless: 180,000 taxi drivers, 160,000 Uber drivers, 500,000 school bus drivers, and 160,000 transit bus drivers, for a grand total of 1 million jobs.


And if we extrapolate a bit and throw in a dash of speculation, we can look at the potential impact on peripheral jobs that don’t involve direct driving but do provide services to modern day consumer drivers. For example, auto body repair shops.

While driverless cars are nowhere near perfect in terms of safety, they are undoubtedly safer than the average American driver. Over 6 years of public testing, Google’s vehicles have only been in 11 minor accidents, and if Google’s reports are trustworthy, none of those accidents were caused by the autonomous vehicle.

A study by McKinsey & Company predicts that, in a future where all cars are driverless, we could see a crash rate reduction of up to 90 percent. Lower accident rates would lead to less frequent visits to auto body repair shops, and that would leave a good portion of the 445,000 auto body repairers without a job.


Other peripherally-impacted jobs could include street meter maids, parking lot attendants, gas station attendants, rental car agencies, and more. Not all of these would lose their jobs entirely, but it’s hard to imagine that these industries wouldn’t be drastically affected, which could affect up to 220,000 more workers.

In total, that’s a little over 4 million American jobs put at risk due to the coming revolution in self-driving cars – more than 1% of the country. Do note that this change will tend result in reemployment rather than unemployment, leading to an overall boost in economic productivity, provided the economy continues to expand.

The Economic Benefits of Self-Driving Cars

Now that we’ve determined how many potential jobs are at risk, let’s look at the potential benefits that we can enjoy once autonomous cars become the norm. Will these benefits justify those lost jobs? I’ll illustrate what we stand to gain, but only you can decide whether the trade will be worth it.

As mentioned earlier, the McKinsey prediction is that a society of self-driving cars could see a reduction in crash rates up to 90 percent. For the individual, this means less money spent on car repairs, maintenance, and health bills related to automotive accidents — which is estimated to be around $180 billion per year.

On a wider scale, we get fewer accidents when transporting cargo over long distances, so companies save money on lost goods. There’s also a slight safety increase since fuel tankers and other volatile vehicles are less prone to crash and burn, but admittedly the gains here may not be significant.


Going back to individual benefits, many regions might move away from the “one car per person” mentality that we currently possess, especially in urban environments. Imagine this: whenever you need a car, you open an app and request one, and it’s there in a few minutes. Uber is already faster than an ambulance in cities like London. Robot cars can probably get that number smaller. When you get to your destination, there’s no need to find parking – the car simply drives away.

Without needing to own our own vehicles anymore, we’d save on gas, maintenance, parking, and insurance costs.

More remarkably, imagine a scenario in which all of these cars were hooked into a singular network. In essence, cars would talk to one another How Cars Will One Day Talk to Each Other How Cars Will One Day Talk to Each Other Tomorrow's transportation is not just about the self-driving car. The future will see networks of cars working together to keep passengers safe and deliver them to their destinations efficiently. Read More wirelessly as they traveled, and this kind of hivemind would be a huge step towards more efficient driving. People going to the same places could be pooled, sending buses along popular routes, and smart-cars for one-off trips. Electric cars could be used more easily, since they could charge themselves without needing to inconvenience a person. All of this amounts to huge savings. Using autonomous vehicles could wind up costing only a few cents per mile.


A practical example of this kind of hivemind network would be the case of inner city parking. In places like New York, it’s almost impossible to find parking because we all want to park as close to our destination as possible. With autonomous cars, that’s no longer necessary. The car can immediately go help someone else when you’re done with it. No more waiting around depreciating and using up space. How many hours of your life have been wasted in search of a place to park? Now you can arrive at your destination, step out, and go on with your day – the car will do the same.


Another practical example of the automotive hivemind: traffic efficiency. Did you know that your vehicle’s fuel economy rating is based on optimal conditions? If you aren’t driving like a perfect robot, you aren’t getting anywhere near the fuel economy that you think you are.

For example, the most fuel-efficient way to drive is the “pulse and glide method”, which involves a rhythmic alternating between acceleration and coasting. Anything less than that and you’re wasting gas. Gas-powered autonomous cars can be programmed with optimal driving behavior, which saves on gas.

But more importantly, optimal driving behavior leads to minimal congestion. Did you know that many traffic jams occur simply due to human inefficiency? Check this out if you don’t believe me:

A study by INRIX found that the average American and European driver wastes about 111 hours in gridlock every year. What would you do with an extra 111 hours? With driverless cars, gridlock could be a thing of the past.

What else could we get by cutting humans out of the driving equation?

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the driverless car is that they don’t suffer from human flaws. Machines have no need to sleep, which means around-the-clock operation of vehicles, but it also means that they aren’t burdened by drowsiness. That’s an additional point for the “autonomous cars are safer” column.

Another cost that passes down to the customer: insurance premiums. Insurance rates are calculated based on risk. Since we’ve already established that driverless cars are significantly safer than the average human driver, insurance costs will plummet. Plus, most of those costs will shift to manufacturers and operators of said cars, leaving us free of that burden.


There are so many more benefits to explore, but I’ll end with one that’s particularly poignant in light of Tesla’s recent advancements in battery technology Did Elon Musk Just Save Us From Fossil Fuels? Did Elon Musk Just Save Us From Fossil Fuels? Read More : the fact that driverless cars are more friendly for the environment.

Most of the aforementioned benefits are about cost savings and gas efficiency: less gridlock, less idling, less searching for parking, and more use of electric vehicles? If we follow that thread, the natural conclusion is that improved efficiency leads to reduced carbon emissions. That’s always a good thing.

There are other factors to consider, which you can read about in our defense that autonomous cars are good for the environment.

A New Era Is Around the Corner

The truth is that the advent of a driverless car industry will surely displace more jobs than it will create, but the long-term gains that we’ll see as a society far outweigh the short-term growing pains and inconveniences. The economic, environmental, and human benefits are astounding. I truly believe that this is one of the situations where the loss of jobs is a valid sacrifice for the greater good of society.

Would I be singing the same tune if self-writing robots were also on the horizon, threatening my own job? If they offered the same kind of economic value and social benefits as self-driving cars, you bet. Self-driving cars are simply too good to pass up.

Is your job endangered by self-driving cars? How do you think they’ll impact the global economy? Do the benefits justify the loss of millions of jobs? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

Image Credits: Delivery Man and Package Via Shutterstock, Most Common Profession Via NPRTaxi At Night Via Shutterstock, Auto Body Repair Shop Via Shutterstock, Parking Enforcer Via Shutterstock, Trucks On Highway Via Shutterstock, Automated Parking Complex Via Shutterstock, Fuel Gauge Via Shutterstock, Car In Nature Via Shutterstock

  1. Ryan
    November 28, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    This is the inevitable reality we face as many new technologies ripple through the economy and endanger the occupations of yesteryear. However, we do not have to assume that this will lead to un-employment. Allow us to be more optimistic than that and see the potential that it will lead to re-employment. Redistribution of time, energy and effort is a beautiful aspect of technological advancement. If we can use technology to help society perform the jobs that many people don’t want to do then we can redirect that entire workforce towards a purpose that benefits mankind in a much more profound way. This could enable many capable young minds to be directed towards fields such as science, environmental science, medicine, teaching, mathematics and engineering—just to name a few. The potential is incredible and could lead to an entire paradigm-shift in the way we operate our world economies, in turn allowing us to create a vastly better way of living.

  2. Eliezer
    October 26, 2016 at 6:45 am

    So going on a macro level, we are pretty much gonna put millions of people out of work with automated fast food and self driving vehicles and worker less factory's , yes lets celebrate the fact that we are seriously cutting jobs out of the market lets celebrate putting a bunch of people in to poverty, lets celebrate making people obsolete, hell lets just barbque all these obsolete people on an automated grill. Its for the benefit of humanity right? "Its only growing long as I get my espresso in the morning and my craft brew in the evening, these growing pains wont affect me because I'm important, screw all those victims of the growing pains they aren't necessary they are just a part of the past, they don't deserve to make a living so they can take care of their families, their not smart they have no place in this new smart economy." Yeah writer of above article you sound like a douche, and I hope they do make writing robots to replace you

  3. David Tanner
    October 25, 2016 at 1:40 am

    How will self driving cars determine the appropriate place to park from the inappropriate place to park? For example, you go to the beach in your privately owned AV. You get dropped off and instruct your car to park. It finds a parking spot in a nearby commercial parking lot (reserved for customers only). How will a restaurant owner know if the cars parked in his parking lot belong to his customers?

  4. Tigger
    September 25, 2016 at 7:55 am

    Always interesting how this technology is great when the writer or purveyor of the technology is not the one to loose THEIR jobs. Like the old adage: "when your neighbor looses their job, it is a recession; when you loose your job it is a depression." Someone will have to pay for the unemployment/welfare/retraining for the four million loosing their jobs. This is not to mention the tremendous social cost of higher crime and mental illness. Be careful what you wish for.

    • Joel Lee
      September 29, 2016 at 12:58 am

      That's a good point, Tigger. If the loss of my job meant the advancement of society, it would be a tough pill to swallow and I probably wouldn't be one of its heralds. But I mean, I'd have to adapt or get left behind, right?

    • GR
      October 9, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      And the middle class shrinks yet again. Those that had a comfortable living in manufacturing / trades are now faced with unemployment and third world workers performing their jobs. Companies that are bringing to market employment removal technology and/or moving jobs to third world counties will inevitably reach a point where the vast majority is unemployed and those few counties with employment are so underpaid there are no customers for their products or services. Education and therefore employment is only for the rich err Lords err Masters. One giant unified global fart!

  5. peter
    September 10, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    im warning all the total ripple effect will throw a wrench into the wheels of our economy we could head for a disaster this is the last great big automation , as mentioned by comments above and below its not just drivers it goes all the way to car salesmen, court clerks lawyers insurance sales people etc.. its going to be a disaster unless we change our economy completely we cant even agree to free healthcare.. but in the future economy we will have to consider free things cause many I mean many will be unemployed this will be a nation of haves and have nots like the movie Elysium ... the next ten years will be insane be ready yall be ready

  6. Zesty
    August 18, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    What about car dealers, people won't need to buy cars anymore, so how about those jobs at dealerships, auto mechanic jobs, discount tire, will be reduced because this system makes the system more efficient and more reliable, thus less failures. If car accidents are reduced drastically, besides auto body repair why do we need auto insurance if that is no passed onto Uber and the like.

    How about the multi billion dollar industry of DWI/DUI, all the cities states wont have that anymore, so lets cut the police and fire department, attorneys, court clerks, and prison system guards etc.

    Why would you need gas stations or their attendants if you don't own a car anymore? Now you can lay off a lot of the auto claims adjusters and insurance processors and agents.

    It really will become a domino effect across the nation. Basically, the united states will become a third world country in 10 years if this goes mainstream by 2020 like they all are planning.

    The net gain is way below the net loss on American Dream. A lot of food for thought.

    • Tigger
      September 25, 2016 at 7:57 am

      The race to the bottom continues.... I really have a hard time believing that the pushers of this technology do not care so much about saving lives as they do filling their pockets.

  7. escape artyst
    May 13, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    This article did not sufficiently counter balance the concern over unemployment as stated in the title. Rather the writer extoled the benefits to the remaining members of society who have the money to pay for the aforementioned convenience. Such remarks are easy to say for those who will not be without employment. This is where we might begin discussions about a welfare state, however my naivete has its limits. US CITIZENS are about to know poverty and violence as well as their 3rd world cousins. Oblige has been labeled unnecessary, wasteful and an affront to the American ideal. Open revolt is a risk the powerful are willing to take, it seems. Woe be to today's children. They will suffer greatly. Many of them will live and die in a world of violence as they will no longer be able to fill a raison d'être. Why bother keeping them around?
    Tax the rich or eliminate the poor.
    Sleep well.

    • D fisher
      August 19, 2016 at 9:28 am

      I agree, also with the loss of jobs, and if people can't find a job, guess what, this is where the stealing and stuff comes and possibly hurting others to get more eyes just to get by!

  8. Robert j clesfed
    April 22, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Common sense the United States economy it doesn't really on autonomous. How about the danger of self driving car, what we do when the senser breaks, What happens when the camera freeze, what happened snow on the road , what happens all the road sign are covered with snow,autonomous car all they do is drive they don't see like human eyes, human can make a better dissension in as human I like to control my car it's 100% safer then senser.

    • Davy
      May 12, 2016 at 5:08 am

      You're wrong about so many things. I work in this field. Humans are 100% more likely to make a driving error than an automated vehicle. If ANY issue arises with the operation of the vehicle it is immediately stopped and another automated vehicle will come along to pick you up. The automated vehicles will be able to attach to each other (fully automated) and tow as many as 5 other cars at the moment creating up to a 14% increase in fuel efficiency. They will have a 120MPH Highway speed limit. I believe the only reason you assume it's safer for a human to drive is because you don't understand the technology.

      Humans are very smart. We can invent a machine to complete any task we do manually at dizzying speeds.

    • JR
      June 21, 2016 at 10:56 am

      Robert, in due time, the concerns that you raise will all be worked out. The thing is to prepare for the inevitable. The fact that the idea of automation has already being considered means its just a matter of time.

  9. Waterguy
    April 6, 2016 at 8:56 am

    How is it that driverless vehicles are good for the environment is "particularly poignant" (evoking a sense of sadness or pity; keenly distressing to the feelings)? I would think that fact would be "particularly uplifting" or "particularly hopeful" or - if what the writer was going for was cheap alliteration - "particularly promising."

    What concerns me is the displacement of low-education workers. Despite the writer's happy chat about "unemployment rather than unemployment," recent experience suggests that low-education workers who lose their jobs don't find new jobs all that quickly (Detroit auto workers, steel mill workers,etc.).

    • Davy
      May 12, 2016 at 5:09 am

      The automated vehicle revolution is set to eliminate 45% of jobs. It will be an interesting time.

  10. fcd76218
    June 19, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    "They’ll make travel cheaper and safer."
    I'll grant you "safer", but not "cheaper". Car prices have been only going up. Any time the manufacturers add any new gizmo or safety feature, they use it as an excuse to jack up price of the car goes up by four figures. The only way driverless cars will be "cheaper" is if they continue to resemble overgrown Kozy Koups and most of the features we have become accustomed to over time are removed.

    "In total, that’s a little over 4 million American jobs put at risk"
    That may be a little over 1% of the population but what percentage of the work force is it? Let's not forget that while driverless cars eliminate much of the auto-related jobs, automation in other fields will also be eliminating jobs. So the impact on unemployment will be larger than just the 4 million.

    "this change will tend result in reemployment rather than unemployment"
    According to whom? And reemployment as what? You glibly skipped the answers and proceeded to talk about the economic benefits of driverless vehicles.

    • Jordet
      August 26, 2016 at 4:39 am

      Safer AND cheaper as we move away from the traditional car ownership model. Why own when you can have access 24/7? Pay/Ride and subscription fees will be the new model starting at $.25/mile. This will eliminate the worst aspects of driving!

      Car payments, insurance, parking tickets, Maintenance, traffic, searching for parking spaces, speeding tickets, drunk driving, car washes, accidents, etc.

      Each autonomous vehicle will take the place of 15 cars.

      These driverless cars will be electric charged with solar energy.

      Most parking lots will become prime real estate and repurposed.

      "Oil, nuclear, natural gas, Coal, electric utilities, And conventional cars Will be obsolete by 2030"

      ~Tony Seba

      source: Clean Disruption Of Energy And Transportation by Tony Seba

      • ab
        October 9, 2016 at 2:38 pm

        and who will use this service when everyone is unemployed and penny-less?

    • peter
      September 10, 2016 at 8:43 pm


    • Tigger
      September 25, 2016 at 8:02 am

      All these people talking about the benefits of something that has not even been perfected yet. Regarding people giving up their cars for a subscription to Uber or other ride share farce, sorry. Americans- including myself- are too selfish to give up their cars. I want my own car, not a pod that may have been vomited in or dirtied before I got in, and I do not feel like lugging books and bags and other personal belongings from the pod to the house and back again. $.25 a mile is not a bargain if someone lives 50 miles from their workplace like many people do in LA, Chicago, Detroit, etc.

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