While driverless cars may seem like something out of Knight Rider, the days of autonomous vehicles that don’t need human control or guidance are closer than you may realize. While there may be some obvious advantages to road safety and traffic congestion, driverless cars may have impact on the real estate market, too.
If real estate is all about location, it’s important to understand the potential impact of driverless cars on the relocation patterns and movements of future homebuyers. The long commute that makes the suburb-life unfeasible and causes plenty of stress could become a time of great personal productivity and reshape how people decide where they want to live.
When you hear the term “driverless car” it’s important to know what that means. In the most literal sense, it means that you will not be in direct control of driving the vehicle. The computer within the car will be programmed to steer, change lanes, speed up, slow down, and make every other driving decision, ideally better and more safely than a person can do it. In 2012, Google was building and testing driverless cars to be fully automated and at that point had already logged 200,000 miles on the road in California.
Some of the technology that powers a driverless car is already in many newer vehicles making your 2016 model semiautonomous. You may already have and use these features and not realize what they are: auto stop and go, lane assist, parking assist, collision alerts, and more. They’re all powered by thousands of sensors in your car. Combine testing, technology, and what many semiautonomous vehicles already offer and you’ve got a driverless car.
The ability is nearly here. Tesla recently announced that vehicles going into production in 2016 will be fully automated by 2018. With system upgrades and as technology improves, the intention is to update today’s vehicles so they can drive without the “help” of a human – prone to distraction, indecision, and mistakes.
How could driverless cars impact real estate? Driving, over the years, has become more of a burden, stress, and hassle than the epitome of freedom every 16 year old dreams it to be. In the 1940s and 50s, when family-owned vehicles were still new and exciting, getting out on the open road meant something massively different than it does today. Interstates encouraged us to drive, while rush hour makes us want to crawl back into bed.
With over half a million Americans experiencing mega-commutes of 90 minutes or longer, rural and suburb areas are declining in population. In 2013, 2.3 million more people lived in major metro areas than in 2012, and no, those numbers don’t simply indicate natural population growth. In part to avoid long, exhausting commutes, people have fled from outlying areas to the cities. Those who haven’t, lose precious time in rush hour drive times, hours-long back ups, and miles logged to and from work.
It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that a fully autonomous driverless car could help halt the exodus from suburbia and relieve the tension of commuters coming in from more rural areas. The time spent on the road might be spent doing what we already do – eating, checking our email, and taking business calls – without the risk of life, limb, and higher insurance premiums. Instead of seeing a commute as a burden to be endured, it could become a time to get things done, freeing up our time at home to spend with family and time at work to focus on the job at hand.
Removing the stress and aggravation of a long commute could make the suburban life attractive to young families and retirees and everyone in between again. Once driverless cars go mainstream, every facet of life will be impacted, including people’s willingness and ability to move to a new home, as well.
Former Communications Director for a local Realtor Association and a big cheerleader for all things real estate related, Michaela is now a full-time freelance writer specializing in real estate and other business industries. When she's not writing the serious business-y stuff, she's likely to be found writing about the hilarity of being a Mom to two rowdy boys.