A policy brief issued by the advocacy group Securing America's Future Energy estimates that the economic and societal benefits of fully deploying autonomous vehicles in the U.S. could total almost $800 billion annually from improved highway safety, enhanced access to transportation for senior citizens, people with disabilities and the disadvantaged, increased productivity, and the ability to gain productive time for work or errands.
"Self-driving technologies will have an enormously positive impact on our country, our economy, and our society. This is an opportunity too great to ignore and now is the time to prepare and implement policies that will unlock these myriad benefits and mitigate any negative impacts of this technological shift," noted Robbie Diamond, president and CEO of SAFE, in a statement. "There is a balance we must strike to realize the billions in economic savings from increased travel access and productivity, to reduced congestion and fewer accidents. The more we maximize the economic and productivity benefits while minimizing any potential impacts on job holders, the better off our country and workforce will be."
SAFE added that its policy brief, entitled America's Workforce and the Self-Driving Future: Realizing Productivity Gains and Spurring Economic Growth, is based on research and individual reports led by three economists: former Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Erica Groshen, former Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future W. David Montgomery and Compass Transportation CEO Richard Mudge.
They estimate that by 2050, AVs will add between $3 trillion to $6 trillion in cumulative consumer and societal benefits to the U.S. economy. However, full-scale deployment of self-driving vehicles is expected to result in 170,000 to 380,000 jobs being lost in the 2030-2040 timeframe, boosting the U.S. unemployment rate upwards of 0.06 to 0.13 of one percent, before a return to "full employment" occurs around 2050.
"AV adoption will cause consequential workforce shifts. While this isn't a time to panic, neither is it a time for complacency. Unlike past labor market disruptions, U.S. policymakers, companies and communities will have the ability to plan ahead for this technological change in order to mitigate the risks to U.S. workers and their families," said Groshen.
Yet Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, believes that drawbacks such as job losses will be outweighed by the benefits of autonomous vehicles. "The number one benefit is safety, by reducing highway fatalities," he explained to the AASHTO Journal in an interview. "Number two is traffic congestion mitigation, which leads to number three, energy conservation."
And it is not just about using self-driving technology to retrofit "what we're doing today in transportation," Steudle stressed. "It's about how we use it to change future transportation; what multimodal options we can deploy to make the overall system more efficient, such as automated busing that handles a lot more people and makes commuting easier. The multimodal piece is an important connection – we need to see how that works out."
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