Google’s Self-Driving Car: Game Changer or Curiosity?

The world’s newest “carmaker” is Google, and Google’s first model is creating quite a stir in the automotive press. Google’s new “car”, which is really a sort of souped-up electric golf cart, is completely driverless. It doesn’t even have a steering wheel.

Google self-driving car

Google’s Ugly Self-Driving Golf Cart

The Google mobile completely changes the relationship between car and driver and the whole idea of driving. Automotive News writer Gabe Nelson notes that the Google cart could completely change the auto industry.

Instead of being individually owned, the Google cars would cruise the city streets and pick up passengers in the same way transit buses and taxi cabs do. Since the current models only drive at speeds under 25 miles per hour, they would only operate in urban areas. For example, the Google car might pick you up at the light-rail station and take you to your office.

Google Cart Could Lower Your Insurance Rates

Obviously, this is a radical idea, but will it change the auto industry and how will it affect car insurance? That’s hard to see because it’s going to be a while, perhaps a decade, before the Google vehicles are widely available. My guess is that a lot of testing will have to be done and there are a lot of serious problems that will have to be ironed out to make this work.

The cost is going to be high and there’s certain to be resistance to the technology. Cab and truck drivers will definitely be opposed to driverless vehicles on the roads because they threaten their jobs. It isn’t hard to picture teamsters taking tire irons to driverless trucks.

The good news is that Google’s driverless vehicles could make streets safer and auto insurance rates lower as we at the Samurai have pointed out before. Anybody who drives on the highways these days knows there are a lot of bad drivers out there. Google’s vehicles cannot be any worse than some of the bozos on the road.

This could lower insurance rates, particularly in cities where car-pedestrian accidents that cause injuries are common. Such accidents raise insurance rates because of the high cost of medical treatment for the injured pedestrians. It could also make driving easier by eliminating some congestion.

Is it the Solution for Urban Congestion?

My guess is that the driverless cars will be utilized first in cities, especially those with serious parking problems like New York and San Francisco. The Google car could seriously reduce urban congestion; they might even become required in some cities. One potential use for it might be to pick you up at the parking lot after you park your vehicle and take you to your destination.

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Serious changes will have to be made to the Google buggy. Bigger vehicles will be needed, and so will more cargo space. My guess is that at some point, Google will have to bite the bullet and install a fuel cell or an engine that burns fuel. The current electric model has a very limited range. The small size creates safety problems, and it has limited passenger and cargo space.

Driverless cars will certainly appeal to those who don’t drive or own cars. They will also be useful for the elderly, the handicapped, children, and people whose driver’s licenses have been taken away.

By the way, expect to see the driverless vehicle technology applied first in industries that use a lot of drivers, for example, in delivery trucks, taxi cabs, transit buses, and shuttle buses. The salary and benefits for drivers are the biggest expenses in those industries. Human drivers create high costs, including commercial driver’s licenses and liability insurance.

At some point in the future, instead of driving the truck, the UPS woman’s function will simply be to put the packages on and off the truck. The cab driver will be there to carry your bags rather than drive the taxi. The bus driver could become more like a train conductor, checking tickets, collecting fares, and supervising passengers.

One result of this regime would be lower liability insurance rates and lower cab fares and delivery costs. Another could be fewer car accidents (most of which are caused by driver error), which would lead to lower insurance rates for those who still drive the old fashioned way.




The data collected by driverless cars would be used to create more accurate pictures of driving habits. That too could lead to lower car insurance rates. By reducing the number of accidents, driverless cars could also reduce the number of personal injury lawsuits that drive up insurance rates. That could make less work for ambulance chasers, but I doubt most people would complain about that.

Perhaps drivers should welcome Google’s driverless cars on the roads. They could lower car insurance rates, ease congestion, and make it easier to find a place to park downtown.