Perhaps the Biggest Downside of Driverless Vehicles: No More Driving


road speed car driving
7 min read

It’s easy to get caught up in the driverless vehicle tide—the technology is exciting, innovative, and promises to reshape how we travel in profound ways. Not to mention the ways in which autonomous vehicles might reduce traffic-related deaths, congestion, and even pollution. But in all the hype, one of the best things about cars can get glossed over: the very real thrill and satisfaction of driving, and how driving has shaped our culture.

For many, driving is a means to an end; a way to get from here to there, from home to work, from the dentist to the farmer’s market. But for others, driving itself is a pleasure. So we wondered: If driverless vehicles are our inevitable future (and it’s looking more and more like that will be the case), what will we miss out on? What joys and experiences will we lose if we no longer drive our own cars, but are instead ferried about autonomously?

Driving is an ingrained part of American culture but soon driverless cars will radically alter that.

We asked everyone from auto-industry experts to everyday drivers who love being behind the wheel for their thoughts. Their passionate responses follow.

On Changes to Our Culture:

From Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book:

“Driving is an ingrained part of the American culture, which means a comprehensive shift to driverless cars will radically change our society. But with the growth of urban areas, commuting has become a tedious component of our daily routine. Many Americans are now ready to hand the task over to computers in an effort to reduce stress while increasing productivity. There will always be an element of society that wants to drive themselves, regardless of the risk and frustrations, but those people are in the minority. The benefits of autonomous technology, including reduced fatalities, less traffic congestion, and greater efficiency, are too powerful to deny.

Driving cars will be like riding horses after they were replaced by cars. People will still do it, but as a hobby and not a functional part of daily life. This will hopefully be the best of all worlds—fans of driving will do it in controlled, safe environments and everyone else will enjoy the benefits of autonomous technology.”

Mike Rabkin of From Car to Finish laments the loss of an important skill:

“Once enough time has elapsed where a new generation doesn’t know how to drive themselves, they lose a skill that is one of the basic expressions of independence. Furthermore, not having to pay attention to driving while in a vehicle only gives more time for us to zone out and not pay attention to the world around us as we travel. Not having to learn basic skills past generations have will foster a culture of dependence.”

Jordan Perch, at DMV.com, talks rites of passage:

“[For young people], obtaining a driver’s license and getting to sit behind the wheel of their own car is a rite of passage that marks an entry into adulthood and gives them a sense of freedom and independence. For car lovers, the driving experience offers a great deal of excitement and a sensation of power that is highlighted by the fact that they get to control such a large and powerful machine that can move at such great speeds.

Cars are often considered a status symbol and a lot of people take great pride in their ability to drive a cool sports car that takes an immense amount of skill to control, or cruise around town in a luxury limousine.”

mountain road

On Exploring the World While Driving:

Car-enthusiast Len Kendall laments the loss of non-screen time:

“I love the freedom that vehicles provide and the serendipitous nature of finding things to explore when you’re not looking at a screen. Most people are glued to screens for most of the day. The move towards self-driving cars will probably increase our safety and efficiency, but will likely kill off one of the remaining periods in our days where we (hopefully) aren’t staring at our phones.”

Carrie Aulenbacher seconds the love of time for quiet contemplation:

“Driving allows my creative side to open up without distractions from co-workers, telephones, television, or the internet. I feel a driverless experience would tempt me to sit in a car and be online while the car drove me to work. I’d be too tempted to call someone or watch the morning news. Whereas, as it is today, I strictly forbid myself to do anything while driving.”

Driving is one of the few modern activities that doesn't require staring at screens.

On The Joys of the Open Road:

Judy Williams, enjoys the simple pleasures of driving:

“I love the feeling of being in control of how I drive. I love being able to slow down and look at a lovely home, or speed up if I am feeling a little uncertain about the area I am in. I love seeing ribbons of road ahead of me knowing that I will be navigating them. I have also taken some major solo road trips, and as a woman nothing is more empowering than heading off for an adventure, alone, driving in your car.”

Author Sophia Dembling on road trips:

“One of the pleasures of road tripping is the sense of having the trip entirely in your own hands—literally. With the wheel in your hands, you physically commune with the road. If air travel is a matter of giving up all control and putting yourself at the mercy of the airlines, road trips give you complete control; it’s a mind/car/road meld, and I love it.”

Scott Amyx gets right to the point:

“As a car enthusiast, what I will miss is the perception of control.”

Michael C. Harley of Autoweb makes the distinction between the functional and leisurely aspects of driving:

“Quite frankly, I’m not going to miss about 85 percent of today’s driving, which is a stressful exercise in time management battling traffic in the Los Angeles Basin. However, I will miss the weekend drives with the windows down listening to the sound of a combustion engine echoing through the canyons.”

suv road trip

On the Insurance Industry

We wonder, how will autonomous vehicles change the auto insurance industry? Most experts we’ve talked to say that as of now, they just don’t know. As we’ve previously reported, there aren’t any auto insurance policies yet that cover autonomous vehicles. Perhaps we’ll end up buying insurance straight from the dealer—like a warranty on a flat screen from Best Buy. And we bet car insurance products will also change: we’re thinking less (or no) liability but more need for omprehensive coverage to protect against things like weather damage and theft.

How do you think the move towards self-driving cars will affect the everyday world around us? Let us know in the comments.