Rotary Club speaker provides overview of autonomous vehicles


The Rotary Club of Los Altos’ speaker last week offered a glimpse into a future populated by driverless cars.

Jon Haveman, executive director of the National Economic Education Delegation (NEED), described at the July 9 virtual meeting “heaven” and “hell” scenarios. His nonprofit’s goal is to promote economic policy literacy among voters.

Haveman cited a McKinsey study that predicted Americans would be able to purchase autonomous vehicles by 2030. The study predicted AVs would become ubiquitous by 2050.

He said he expects consumer availability to develop more slowly but predicts the transition of AVs into service vehicles will happen “pretty quickly.”

Headlines from years ago announcing Tesla co-founder Elon Musk’s forecast of fully autonomous vehicles by 2019 opened the floodgates for “a ton of money” devoted to research on AVs, Haveman said, citing more than 40 corporations at work on the development.

Haveman set forth two distinctly different futures with AVs. “Hell” would be characterized by pollution, traffic congestion and parking difficulties like we experience today. “Heaven” would be a future where people do not own private cars, vehicles become right-sized for the number of riders on each trip, people use cellphones to summon AVs on request and individual car insurance becomes unnecessary.

Cars could be shared, connected and green, he said, and fewer cars would be needed, reducing congestion on the roads and space required for parking.

Haveman suggested that adoption of AVs could reduce the typical cost of travel from 59 cents per mile to just 19 cents per mile.

People could recover their commute time, he said, which now averages approximately 30 minutes per day, and enjoy spending that time on other activities.

According to Haveman, public benefits would include a 25% reduction in congestion, as well as elimination of 40,000 traffic deaths and 2 million injuries annually, as 90% of accidents are caused by driver error.

Other benefits: mobility for the elderly and disabled, conversion of parking areas to green spaces and increased disposable income.

Buy-in by the government would be important but difficult, Haveman said. Reduced taxes through widespread use of AVs for public service would challenge government finances, he noted, and would produce massive job displacements. He predicted a reduction in jobs for drivers, vehicle repair, parking and many other areas.

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Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit


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