driverless picSelf-driving cars are inevitable. Cars are already reverse-parking themselves and braking automatically to avoid, or at least mitigate crashes. Next year Volvo will have vehicles capable of driving themselves in traffic up to 31 kmh, and late this year Mercedes-Benz’s new S-class will steer itself, maintaining course in its lane at a safe distance from the car ahead.

Maybe to gentle us into the autonomous car thing the Mercedes system won’t operate unless a hand is on the steering wheel.

The Economist magazine recently took a stab at how things could look with self-driving everywhere cars and there’s good and bad. Good: Your car will take you to work, drop you and then go home again, so scratch downtown parking stations. Bad: This means rush hour will be twice as long.

Mind you, given that electronics can react in millionths of seconds cars will be able to travel much closer together in fast-moving caravans, so the capacity of existing roads will be increased. That’s got to have a positive effect on commuting times.

Truck drivers and couriers will be out of a job and trucks won’t need rest breaks anymore, so say goodbye to truck bays. Taxi drivers will also join the unemployment lines as people simply summon short-term hire cars with their smart phones. Or use their own cars and send them back home again. Shopping centres may even offer customers free lifts in their self-driven mini buses.

Roads will need fewer signs, signals and guard rails so building them will be cheaper. And rural houses will become more desirable because people won’t mind long commutes; they’ll be able to work (or play) on their computers while sitting comfortably in the rear seat.

Speaking of which, the car will take the kids to school giving home-parents greater work flexibility.

Here’s something the car industry will appreciate; driving tests, if they exist at all, will become a great deal easier. The industry is concerned that growing numbers of young people prefer using their iPads on the train to driving, and anything that gets them interested in cars again is welcome.

Travelling salesmen will sleep in their motor homes as they roll from town to town, meaning lots of farmers’ daughters may remain single. Hey, you might even be able to have a few drinks at a restaurant and take the car home.

The vast bulk of car accidents are caused by human error, so expect accidents to fall dramatically. This will send insurance premiums plummeting (this is just theory, remember) and free up hospital beds.

And obviously cars will be programmed to obey speed limits so forget traffic cops and speed cameras. But expect a rise in taxes to compensate the poor, struggling government.

And you can bank on a fine disaster movie or two about it all going wrong.

Published February 2013.