• Zach Mitcham, Madison County Journal

How Our Relationship With Cars Will Change

I'm a poor prognosticator. Ask me to pick the winner of an election or a big game, and I'll typically get it wrong. So my predictions shouldn't matter much to you.

That said, it's fun to peer into a "crystal ball" at times and make a statement. So, here's one: our relationship to cars is going to fundamentally change in the next 10-to-15 years. Obviously, I'm thinking about driverless cars, but I'm actually thinking first about our insurance. I predict policies are going to be quite different in the near future. I recently saw the headline: "Tesla knows when a crash is your fault; other carmakers soon will too."

Tesla cars are equipped with data recorders. They are hooked to the Internet. Like Santa Claus, the company knows when you've been naughty or nice. If you speed all the time, they know. If you collide with something, they can tell if you did something stupid.

"Only about a quarter of new cars have the necessary technology today, but that's expected to reach over 90 percent by 2020," stated the article in the MIT Technology Review. "Companies such as GM are open about their interest in expanding the range of data they collect on driver actions to open up new business opportunities."

Just as our smart phones are portals into our personal lives, our cars soon will be too.

Think about the ramifications of widespread data collection on cars. Submission to auto surveillance won't be mandatory, at least not at first. No, it will be a "carrot-on-the-stick" type scenario. Insurance companies will love to have access to driver behavior. Think of how risk can be managed with such knowledge. So insurance companies will offer significantly lower premiums to drivers willing to be monitored at all times. If you show good behavior - no speeding, etc. - you'll probably qualify for even lower premiums.

But if you're like me, this unsettles you. I really don't like the idea of being monitored. I don't want anyone knowing my business. Not that I want to hide, but I just like the notion of privacy. I'm also not naive. I know iPhone opens me up to far more surveillance that I'm comfortable with. However, I've chosen to use it anyway. There are just so many benefits to having it. My car is still private, right? But for how long?

Think about it: would you be willing to let insurers monitor you if you got significantly cheaper deals? The perk of this is that drivers who know they're being watched are far more likely to be safe - kind of like how you slow down when a cop is pointing a radar gun at you. If this took effect, it would likely make roads somewhat safer, even as the creepy surveillance aspect increased.

I'm willing to bet that if the savings are good enough, then plenty of people will jump on the cheap rates. If this happens, then it will slowly morph into something else. As the data monitoring becomes more the norm on the roads, then going without the surveillance will be cost prohibitive. Yes, insurance companies will allow you to drive without monitoring for as long as you want, but you'll have to pay a pretty penny for that privacy as everyone else jumps aboard.

As driverless car technology becomes more prevalent, the insurance industry will have a financial incentive to push drivers toward keeping their hands off the wheel and letting a machine handle the task. Insurance companies will always be needed. You can have car damage from fallen limbs and a variety of other non-driving mishaps. You'll always have a premium as long as you have a car. But if human error can be eliminated, then insurance companies will see their payouts drop dramatically. Therefore, they'll want everyone to give up driving. And they can set rates to make that happen. Oh, you still want to drive your own car? Well, sure. You're just going to have to be rich enough to afford that luxury.

I'm certainly not the only one making such predictions. I've read other people saying such things. And I think they're right. I believe the economics of insurance will lead to the end of human driving. And I bet it will happen sooner than we expect. Such days will be ushered in with data collection on our driving habits as the first step.

Of course, I'm certainly no Nostradamus. And maybe I'm flat wrong.

I really hope so. I prefer my own hands on the wheel. I'm not eager for Siri to steer.

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