自驾汽车很少会发生碰撞事故（至少在理论上确实如此），因此车辆可以造得更轻型化，无需笨重的安全框架，这意味着对钢铁的需求减少。随着安全问题不再那么令人担忧，汽车厂商将来还可以自由地作出新尝试，重新考量“何为汽车”这个基本概念。“为什么不设计一辆相当于车轮上的办公室的汽车呢？”美国加州大学戴维斯分校交通研究中心（Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California）创始人兼主任丹•斯珀林问道。
Self-driving cars rarely crash (in theory, at least), so vehicles can be made lighter, without heavy safety frames, which means less demand for steel. As concerns over safety diminish, car makers will have free rein to redesign the very notion of what a car is. "Why not design a car as an office on wheels?" asks Dan Sperling, the founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing self-driving cars is, not surprisingly, lawyers. The good news is that this technology should dramatically reduce the 30,000-plus annual fatalities on the nation's highways. According to AAA, traffic crashes cost Americans $299 billion each year. But who will be responsible when accidents do happen? The deep-pocketed automakers and the software company that wrote the code are more likely targets for tort lawyers than the consumer sitting behind an (unused) wheel. Sperling says that "self-driving cars create the risk of catastrophic accident," which means the auto-insurance business will need to reboot. As accident rates fall and liability becomes shared with the manufacturer, drivers will see less need to carry so much insurance. To maintain their revenue stream, auto insurers will have to shift to providing coverage to the car makers or software firms that write the code -- depending on which tack the trial lawyers take.
The change to self-driving cars will be evolutionary, but the evolution is well under way. We're already seeing small changes in our vehicles, such as lane warning systems and adaptive cruise control. Maybe in the not-too-distant future, I'll be able to write stories like this while commuting in my car.
Four ways self-driving vehicles may change business
1. Trucks could travel 12 inches apart in "platoons" that reduce drag. Fuel savings could reach 15% to 20%.
2. Americans spend on average 250 hours a year commuting. If a car does the driving, that time could be spent working.
3. Because self-driving cars will be safer, they won't need heavy safety cages. Bad news for the steel industry.
4. Insurers will have to figure out who's liable in an accident: the car maker, the software designer, or the GPS provider.