I started writing this column while I was in Manila, Philippines for a talk with UnionBank, one of the most innovative banks I’ve ever come across.

Driving across Manila is often a painful experience with far too many cars locking up all possible arterials, and nowhere near enough money to redesign and build the needed infrastructure. But this is not unique to Manila.

As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve run into equally bad traffic in Istanbul, Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Seoul, Mexico City, San Francisco, Rome, London, Beijing, and Mumbai. In fact there are literally thousands of cities where bad traffic is a way of life.

Car companies have become very good at selling vehicles but few countries have anticipated them being this good at it.

A recent study by Morgan Stanley showed that the average car is only used 4% of the day, making cars an astonishing waste of resources. If all cars were to be on the road simultaneously, we cannot even imagine the chaos that would ensue.

For these reasons I’ve become enamored with the coming autonomous car era where many of todays problems get solved. However, going through the transition will be anything but smooth.

Making the Transition

There’s a significant difference between a driverless car and a fully autonomous vehicle. We already have a number of vehicles on the road today with driverless features, but that’s only a small step towards the no-steering-wheel type of driverless car many are imagining.

As we move further into the fully autonomous car era, we also need to understand the distinction between “user-operated” and “completely driverless” vehicles. Because of regulatory and insurance issues, user-operated fully autonomous cars will come to market within the next five years, while complete autonomous driverless autos will remain further off.

Even though both Google and Tesla have predicted that fully-autonomous cars, the kind that Elon Musk describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep, and wake up at your destination,” will be available to the public by 2020, that’s not the full story.

First generation vehicles like these will come with a variety of regulator issues and technical problems few can anticipate. But as with all early stage technologies, each of these problems will be dealt with as they arise.

In addition, being available and being commonplace are also many years apart.

While we are entering a game-changing transition period accompanied with a never-ending stream of industry hype, most of the changes listed below will happen after 2030.

Somewhere in the 2030-2035 timeframe we’ll begin to see highways designated as “driverless only,” allowing vehicles that can be switched into driverless mode.

Fleet Ownership and On-Demand Transportation

Imagine stepping out of your house 15 years from now and using your smartphone to summon a driverless vehicle. Within 2-3 minutes a driverless vehicle arrives and whisks you off to work, school, shopping, or wherever you want to go.

A form of on-demand transportation is already happening with companies like Uber and Lyft. If we eliminate the driver, costs will plummet.

Once the technology is perfected, on-demand transportation companies will crop up in most metropolitan areas with large fleets of vehicles poised to meet consumer demand.

As car companies come to grips with a future that has fewer cars in it, they will begin changing their business model. Rather than charging for each vehicle sold, they will partner with fleet managers and charge for every mile the car is driven.

In a move to strengthen their financial position, car companies will begin to reduce the number of dealers, middlemen, and finance costs. This will put large fleet owners in an unusually influential position regarding car design.

Over time, riders will place far more emphasis on features like ingress and egress, riding comfort, and entertainment options, placing far less emphasis on things like car brand, style, color, and efficiency ratings.

Since the idea of fleet ownership and on-demand transportation tend to break down in rural communities, early use cases will spring up first in large metro areas.

How much longer will we have steering wheels?
How much longer will we have steering wheels?

Major Industry-Wide Changes Ahead

Over the coming decades, a number of industry-wide “epiphany moments” will cause business leaders to rethink the true scope of impact.

Early adopters will include Gen Z young people who will never feel the need to get a license and pay for insurance as well as Baby Boomers who don’t want to loose their freedom.

Adding to the early user list will be poor people, both legal and illegal immigrants, folks with DUIs, teenagers too young to drive, the directionally impaired, people who have lost their insurance, and many more.

Keep in mind these are changes that will take place over the next couple decades. In some cases we will see a car industry version of Blockbuster Video where all physical stores disappear. While some will disappear completely, others, like travel agencies, will be reduced to a small fraction of their former self.

Double Checkerboard

Over the years I’ve developed a brainstorming technique called the “checkerboard” as a way to generate new ideas. It’s a very simple technique where I start with eight categories and list eight items in each category, enough to fill all 64 spaces on a checkerboard.

When I’m feeling extra creative, I’ll generate enough ideas to fill two checkerboards – 128 of them.

Below are a number of these lists to help you grasp the sea change ahead in the transportation industry.

Driving Jobs that will Disappear – The job of driving a vehicle is one of the most common jobs in the world today. Most of these will evaporate over the coming decades.

  1. Taxi drivers
  2. Uber & Lyft drivers
  3. Delivery (FedEx, UPS, USPS) jobs
  4. Courier jobs
  5. Bus drivers
  6. Truck drivers
  7. Valet jobs
  8. Chauffeurs and limo drivers

Other Jobs that will Disappear – Along with driving vehicles, the transportation industry has a huge number of supporting roles that will also vanish.

  1. Road construction flag people
  2. Drivers-Ed teachers
  3. Defensive driving schools
  4. Traffic analysts
  5. Car licensing and registration
  6. Drivers test people
  7. Rental car agents
  8. Crash testers

Specialty Vehicles – Virtually every vehicle that requires a human operator today will find itself competing with an autonomous version sometime in the future.

  1. Forklift drivers
  2. Lawnmower operators
  3. Snowplow operators
  4. Water truck drivers
  5. Fire truck drivers
  6. Water taxies
  7. Ambulance drivers
  8. Trash truck drivers
Autonomous ag-bots are coming to farmer’s field near you
Autonomous ag-bots are coming to farmer’s field near you

Farm and Equipment Vehicles – Agriculture has continually been on the forefront of innovation. Entering the driverless era will be no exception.

  1. Tractor drivers
  2. Combine operators
  3. Swather operators
  4. Bailer operators
  5. Sprayer operators
  6. Horse trailer drivers
  7. Grain truck operators
  8. Automated fruit harvester operators

Construction Equipment Vehicles – Road construction and repair is a huge industry that will eventually be taken over by unmanned bots and drones.

  1. Crane operators
  2. Road grader operators
  3. Earth movers
  4. Street sweeper operators
  5. Backhoe operators
  6. Trencher operators
  7. Cement truck operators
  8. Fuel truck operators

Car Sales, Finance, & Insurance Industry Positions – As we move from owned to shared vehicles, much of the transportation economy will also disappear.

  1. Auto sales – new and used
  2. Account managers
  3. Auto auctions
  4. Credit managers
  5. Loan underwriters
  6. Insurance agents and sales reps
  7. Insurance claims adjusters
  8. Insurance call center agents

Miscellaneous Jobs to Disappear – We often forget how embedded our transportation culture is in today’s economy. Here are a few more of our soon-to-be-forgotten professions.

  1. Traffic reporters on the news
  2. Sobriety checkpoint people
  3. Auto industry lobbyists
  4. Stoplight installers
  5. Pothole repair people
  6. Emission testers
  7. Road and parking lot stripers
  8. Night repair crews
It’s hard to imagine what the inside of future vehicles will look like
It’s hard to imagine what the inside of future vehicles will look like

Vehicle Features that will Disappear – The inside of cars will look radically different once the driver is removed from the equation.

  1. Steering wheels
  2. Gas pedals
  3. Talking GPS
  4. Dashboards for drivers
  5. Spare tires
  6. License plates
  7. Seatbelts
  8. Odometers

Vehicle Repair – Consumer-Facing Businesses – A significant portion of today’s retail and service industry is related to transportation. These too will begin to fade away.

  1. Roadside assistance
  2. Auto repair shops
  3. Body shops
  4. Tow trucks
  5. Glass repair
  6. Auto locksmiths
  7. Transmission repair shops
  8. Auto part stores

Vehicle Maintenance – There are a number of businesses that keep our cars operational and looking good. These too will dwindle over time.

  1. Gas stations
  2. Car washes
  3. Oil change businesses
  4. Detail shops
  5. Tire shops
  6. Brake shops
  7. Emissions testing
  8. Alignment shops
Even crash test dummies will soon lose their jobs
Even crash test dummies will soon lose their jobs

Driver Related Issues that will Disappear – Because of all the things that can go wrong in today’s congested traffic, many other issues will also disappear.

  1. Road rage
  2. Fender benders
  3. Car theft
  4. Getting lost
  5. Lost cars in parking lots
  6. Driving tests
  7. Traffic stops
  8. Crash test dummies

Parking Related Things – With cars today only being used 4% of the average day, we’ve had to build a massive parking infrastructure to accommodate both the long-term and short-term storage of unused vehicles. These will all lose their importance over time.

  1. Parking lots
  2. Parking garages
  3. Parking tickets
  4. Valet services
  5. Parallel parking
  6. Parking meters
  7. Charging stations
  8. Handicap parking

Courts/Justice System – In an autonomous vehicle era, most police departments will shrink to a fraction of their current size.

  1. Traffic cops
  2. Traffic courts – lawyers, DA, judges
  3. Driver licenses
  4. Patrol cars and officers
  5. DUIs and drunk driving
  6. Sobriety checkpoints
  7. The boot
  8. Road rage school

Highway Related – Future highways will not require near as many safety features.

  1. Traffic jams
  2. Traffic signs
  3. Traffic lanes
  4. Speed zones
  5. Road stripes
  6. Weigh stations
  7. Mile markers
  8. Guardrails

Highway Repair – While we will still need to repair roads in the future, repair activities will no longer be a major impediment to the flow of traffic.

  1. Traffic cones
  2. Road closures
  3. Detours
  4. Stoplights
  5. Pilot cars
  6. Flag people
  7. Merge lanes
  8. Night lights for late night road repair

Traffic Laws – Traffic law has grown to become a significant portion of the justice system penal code.

  1. Speeding tickets
  2. Failing to stop at a stoplight or stop sign
  3. DUIs – driving under the influence
  4. Reckless driving
  5. Driving in the wrong direction
  6. Passing in a no passing zone
  7. Unsafe lane changes
  8. Driver profiling – In our autonomous future, every car will be driven exactly the same way, so ageist, sexist, racist and regional driver prejudices will cease to exist.
Unlocking the road ahead
Unlocking the road ahead

Final Thoughts

The privilege of driving is about to be redefined.

Elon Musk has predicted, over time, that lawmakers will decide that driving a vehicle is far too dangerous for humans, and most people will be outlawed from doing the driving themselves.

Following close behind autonomous vehicles on the ground will be a wide array of autonomous vehicles in the air including flying passenger drones. Even though it will be many years before “droning to work” will become a common form of transportation, we will eventually get there.

Many are already thinking about the systematic loss of jobs coming when drivers are deemed unnecessary. The part that’s receiving far less attention is the huge number of new jobs that will replace the ones going away.

Here is just a quick sampling of

  • In-car “ride experience” designers
  • Operators of fast food drones that will dock with moving cars
  • Traffic flow analysts
  • Traffic system planners, designers, and monitors
  • Automated traffic architects and engineers
  • Driverless operating system engineers
  • Luxury vehicle designers
  • Traffic transitionists and impact minimizers

Car designers today spend the vast majority of their time trying to optimize the driver experience. After all, the driver is the most important part of the ownership equation.

As we enter the “driverless era,” the focus will shift to the passenger experience. Fancy dashboards displaying dazzling amounts of information for the driver will become a thing of the past as riders fuss over on-board movies, music, and massage controls.

Some fleet owners will offer car experiences that are more conversational in nature, pairing socially compatible riders in a way to maximize conversations and improve the social environment. Others will stress the benefits of alone-time, offering a peaceful zen-like experience for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of work-life.

As we navigate our way towards a safer, more efficient society, we still have a few bumpy roads to go down before we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As I’ve said many times, driverless cars will change transportation more dramatically than the invention of the automobile itself. I’m hoping this will help you understand why.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything.

32 Responses to “128 Things that will disappear in the driverless car era”

Comments List

  1. doug

    You forgot Judges Lawyers traffic fines jail county tax city taxes revenue from traffic offences these are hardened and entrenched and won't go quietly into that good night sir
  2. <a href='http://www.austinvaletandparking.com/' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>John</a>

    With all of the excitement around self-driving vehicles, it seems like people forget just how many jobs rely on driving as a service. I'm curious to see how big players in the industries that will be affected are going to react to the progress being made. Thanks for sharing.
  3. <a href='http://www.leonard.info' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>randy Leonard</a>

    An interesting comparison is Prohibition in the 1920's. So may jobs lost with the loss of an industry (e.g. barrel makers, vineyards, breweries, etc.). Governments were dependent upon alcohol-related taxes (e.g. NY lost 75% of its tax revenue).
  4. Mark

    Don't forget that there is a sizable industry built around extricating and saving those who are in serious accidents... paramedics, helicopter pilots, hospital staff, surgeons... These jobs of course take care of serious injuries caused by things other than auto accidents, but I'm sure eliminating the vast majority of accidents will make an impact (pardon the pun) on them.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Thanks Mark, You bring up some great points. Naturally the work of these people can be reapplied to dealing with other kinds of injuries, but the overall number of injuries will begin to decline. Few people remember that one of the most dangerous animals today is the deer, an innocent creature without a vicious bone in its body. It only became dangerous after the invention of the automobile. Driverless cars will have far better ways of dealing with deer, eliminating all the accidents, deaths, and injuries resulting from them. Futurist Thomas Frey
      • <a href='http://bikeleichhardt.org' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Robert Moore</a>

        The bicycle rider and pedestrian will be much safer and more popular I hope, and the community will be much healthier as a result.
  5. <a href='http://electroarena.in' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Shirish Dhungel</a>

    Accidents might surely occur even if it self-driving car. The recent Tesla mode S crashed in self-driving. If the company or developer is able to optimize the system and pull of negative factors; they will be one and only means... or not!
  6. <a href='http://www.na8.com.ar' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Na8</a>

    Hi, very interesting article about self driving cars. I would like to share a post I wrote about driverless car in Spain http://www.na8.com.ar/news/2016/07/13/hacia-el-coche-autonomo-en-espana/ It is in Spanish but if someone is interested I can translate it. (just ask!) Thank you,
  7. Phone

    Imagine stepping out of your house 15 years from now and using your smartphone to summon a driverless vehicle. Smartphone may disappear after 15 yrs. Lol
  8. <a href='http://www.crestcom.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Dave Strathmann</a>

    It is extremely useful, even though disconcerting, to consider the changes that the future will certainly bring. We have witnessed gradual yet significant changes with web based shopping, and the ripples of retailers consolidating through mergers, closing stores, closing malls, will not only affect those in retail, but also spill over into commercial real estate development, the construction industry that supports it, and others. Thanks for sharing your insights, Mr. Frey.
  9. <a href='http://www.commutercars.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Michael Weiser</a>

    129. Car side seats 130. Lane-splitting restrictions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUjhtJdbkGw
  10. Dave Bixler

    This is a great piece - really enjoyed it. With respect to fast food drone operators, I would expect by then you would just connect with your favorite fast food establishment and download the appropriate software "recipe" to allow you to "print" your meal right in the vehicle. Why wait for delivery in the "on-demand" world of the future?
  11. <a href='http://socialmediateammanagement.com/influence-expert/' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Warren Whitlock</a>

    So much of our world, city design, business locations, etc, have been built around drivers. I start imagining what we'd be without cars, and see so many ways they have held us back
  12. Ian Winograd

    As astonishing as this sounds, think of all the jobs from 100 years ago that no longer exist today.. Encyclopedia salesmen, Typewriter manufacturers, etc.
  13. John Rice

    If I don't have a car, I don't need a garage. Most houses have two car garages, many have three. Perhaps houses get smaller, but my guess is the existing garages will be repurposed.
  14. Emma

    Great thought-provoking article. While its shocking to think of all these jobs going I'm also imagining and anticipating a future where children and old people will be able to walk around the community much more safely. Our vehicle-centric open spaces will become quieter, safer and with fresher air. Children might actually be able to play outside again! Cars have given us so much yet taken so much from us too. Maybe this is true of every technology.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Driverless vehicles will offer freedom to millions of people who don't or can't drive today. Rather than designing around cars, we can begin to design around the human once again. Thomas Frey
  15. Adam

    As a motorcyclist, I wonder where (if anywhere) we will fit in. Few bikers will be willing to give it up. I see a future where all bikers will be "outlaws". Both the biker culture and the hot rod culture, people who ride or drive for the love of it, will be squeezed out. I see this as a major point of friction
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Hi Adam, Both motorcycles and bicycles are an interesting question in the driverless era. Since bicycles are primarily used for exercise there will likely be bike paths/lanes forever. Note: Driverless cars will very likely have their own exercise system built into the vehicles but that will evolve over time. I'm sure someone will invent some form of driverless motorcycle but that will be a far different experience driving one. We will also see lots of activity around flying hovercycles which will be safer and far more exhilarating. My sense is that motorcycles will tend to move into the category of expensive hobby as the roads to drive them on begin to dwindle away, but it will take several decades for this to unfold. Futurist Thomas Frey
  16. Chuck Vietzen

    Airlines will be impacted as well, and for that matter the driving vacation will make a come back I predict. Many will simply choose to drive the greater distances that used to be so far that you only considered flying. Suddenly, a cruise, trip to Orlando theme parks or skiing in Colorado gets cheaper when no airfare or rental car costs are involved. Also, people will be able to take advantage of last minute deals on accommodations because they can drive a long distance, while they sleep, on short notice.
  17. Steve Faber

    There will be countless other many as yet I imagined jobs and industries taking the place of those individuals losing the aforementioned jobs. However one can scarcely fathom the sheer number of people out of work in the latest industrial revolution. It is simply further reaching and of a much broader scope than those of the past. Ironically, as machines become more intelligent and dexterous, they will finally erase precisely those characteristics that kept them from competing for human jobs in nearly every field. Companies will gladly embrace legions of new workers who toe the line and have no health care costs. In so doing, they may be signing their own death warrants, as machines don't buy anything.
  18. Craig McNaught

    Everyone seems to assume that people will want to share vehicles. While this is a noble gesture, I think that ideas related to personal status, and preference will still find many buyers of personal driverless automobiles. We still use paper, even though we know there are digital alternatives. People will still want to drive, and changing humans will take longer than changing the technology. I prefer to use the technology of "driverless" to ensure safety, and efficiencies. Maybe, I will only need one car. After I reach the golf course, I can send the car back home to take my kids to school, and the car can come back to be later
  19. Ralph

    This all reminds me of the song "In the year 2525 if man is still alive if woman can survive they may find..... Sung by Zagr and Evans. All this is not going to fit together as envisioned as stated here. No jobs and how are people going to pay for everything ??? Cannot even walk in and rob a bank no more cause no one will have money even. Going to be a terrible world and everyone is going to seem like it's one big jail.
  20. Jake

    This is all well and good for some things like letting the car driving you back if your tired etc, but have all these computer engineers forgotten some of the reasons people learn to drive and the issues driverless cars have all together? Silly I love driving lots of people do. I don't learn to drive so a car can take me, it's stupid I might as well take the train. Also have you forgot these systems could be interfered with like hacking, imagine the accidents or terror attacks people could cause using a powerful software. Also on top that the job loses would be too horrendous we might as well be useless and not be born at all. He future all of sudden seems dull and grim all of a sudden. It's too biased this article in some way and goes to far in what get replaced. Cars are fun to some people and they will have to take my steering wheel off me over my dead body if they ever outlawed humans driving, sorry but it seems to out touch with reality.
  21. Bob pultz

    I retire in 2030 from snowplowing and pothole repair. Still have a hard time believing a computer will be able to dig itself out of a ditch on black ice. Had an allwheel drive spin me out, when one wheel grabs the rest slip. Monkeys are cheaper than machines still on potholes. The investment in New tools and practices will be hard for taxpayers to swallow. Particularly in rural areas.
  22. Hélio D.

    All these take into account that motorcycles will disappear as well. Differently from cars, I believe they will stay, because the motorcyclists enjoy the way and the riding, they don't only want to get there.

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