Change is a-comin’. Driving right at us. Or, it’s cruising, actually, at a perfectly efficient speed to our location. The car pulls up and you get in, but the driver’s seat is empty. Or, there really isn’t a driver’s seat. This dream of science fiction is soon to be a reality: enter the self-driving vehicle.

The term self-driving vehicle (SDV) encompasses any vehicle that can partially or fully function without input from a human operator. Some driverless cars, as they are also known, still require a human for certain operations, while others are fully autonomous – meaning the car itself requires no support from a human, except in emergency scenarios. These vehicles can also make a trip without a passenger, either for purposes of transporting cargo or picking someone up.

The introduction of self-driving vehicles is likely to spark a ripple effect comparable only to the invention of the automobile we now consider “conventional”. Where we lived, how we made a living, and what was thought to be possible – in nearly every industry – changed when we gained the power to get behind the wheel and drive. 

If, or when, vehicles can operate themselves, we’ll have to rethink our infrastructure, many of our laws that govern traffic and public safety, and even how liability insurance functions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created safety standards under the reasonable assumption that cars would always be operated by a human driver. Since this assumption may no longer apply in the future, our standards for law and order on roadways will have to shift accordingly.

Although some SDV prototypes have the ability to recognize and react to stop signs and pedestrians, our infrastructure may have to be updated in order to optimize safety and navigation for artificial intelligence.

While these may seem like major obstacles, the self-driving vehicle may offer a smarter and safer future in return. There is the obvious appeal of being productive or just relaxing during our daily commute. With a SDV, we can expect more efficient fuel economy as a result of robotically efficient driving patterns. Driverless cars are also estimated to be safer than conventional vehicles and cause fewer accidents. We can hope to see the current rate of crash fatalities (nearly 1.25 million deaths annually) lower dramatically. Interestingly enough, the majority of accidents in road-testing SDV’s were due to human error – from a human crashing into an automated car.

Although the technology is here, it will be several years until these autonomous vehicles fill our roadways. Experts are not entirely sure when this technology will enter the mainstream – but automotive and technology companies are pushing full steam ahead in research and development.

All we know for sure is that change is on the way. Are you ready for it? What other changes do you think self-driving vehicles will cause? We want to hear your opinions in the comments below!