How Soon Will Self-Driving Cars Become a Reality in San Francisco?

If the tech wizards at Google have their way, your car may soon be able to do a whole lot more than just help you parallel park. Analysts are predicting that the self-driven car sales will explode in the very near future filling the roadways throughout America with cars that allow passengers to simply sit back and relax while they’re whisked to their destinations. A few short years ago that would have seemed like something out of The Jetsons but with recent advances in computer engineering the self-driving car is no longer something out of science fiction. These machines are real and they’re already on the roads.

But how long will it be before we see self-driving cars as a mainstream part of everyday life?

The Rapid Growth of Self-Driving Cars

While car and tech companies have been trying to create a commercially viable self-driving car for decades the first machine to really open that Pandora’s Box was Google’s Stanley in 2005.

  • Just 7 years later California Governor Edmund Brown signed the autonomous-vehicles bill into law, paving the way for self-driving cars to take over the streets in San Francisco. (As of that date Google’s fleet of autonomous cars had already racked up an impressive 300,000 miles of driving time.)
  • In 2016 Google’s self-driving cars were officially classified as “drivers” by the National highway transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), yet another step toward robot domination.
  • IHS Automotive predicts that by 2035 1 out of every 10 cars on the road will be self-driven. That would put nearly 54 million self-driving cars on roads worldwide.
  • IHS also predicts that by 2050 all vehicles will be self-driven.

Why Self-Driving Cars Will Be So Popular

The rapid growth of self-driving cars isn’t just because Americans have become tech-hungry. It appears self-driving cars actually fill a need that’s been growing in America for decades.

Car Ownership Declines

In 2013 The New York Times reported that car ownership had declined by 9% since its peak in 1995. The main reason for this drop was economic—more people simply can’t afford to own vehicles. And while the economy has improved, that downward trend in ownership persists.

Kids Just Don’t Want to Drive

Younger generations simply don’t want to drive. Millennials now possess far fewer drivers’ licenses (percentage-wise) than any other generation before them. In fact, one study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that driver’s license ownership in the United States has dropped nearly 17% (to just 76.7%) since 1987.

The Rise of Uber

More and more people are depending on car sharing services like Uber and Lyft than ever before. In fact, Uber has been making over 1 million pickups per day since 2013 and made well over 3 million in one month in New York City alone.

Self-Driving Cars are Safer

The sensor arrays in self-driving cars can detect obstacles and respond to them much quicker than a human driver ever could. In fact, one estimate by McKinsey and Co. shows that self-driven cars could reduce traffic accidents by up to 90%, saving nearly 30,000 lives each year. As a San Francisco traffic accident attorney I’m skeptical about the exact figures but any decrease in traffic deaths would be a blessing.

Self-Driving Cars Will Be a Reality

While many critics say that self-driving cars could potentially be hacked by criminals and terrorists, or that they could have a negative effect on the environment and potentially make traffic worse, it appears that Google and other companies behind this new technology have invested far too much money to let these vehicles fall by the wayside. Couple that corporate support with Americans who are always eager to call themselves early adopters of new tech and you have a sort of “Perfect Storm.” While self-driving cars may not replace every vehicle on the road by 2050, it’s a solid bet that they will represent a very significant portion of the total by then.

Obviously, once self-driving cars become commonplace in San Francisco, a whole new set of laws, responsibilities and level of awareness will come with it. As a SF car crash lawyer, I am ready to see a significant increase in safety and reduction in car accidents in San Francisco.