Self-driving cars will change life in Greenwich as much or more than the change from horse drawn carriages to cars did. In the next couple of years true self-driving cars will arrive in Greenwich and we are likely to be a leader in this new technology.
I say we are likely to be a leader in self-driving cars, because of a conversation I had with David Peabody of Peabody’s Automobiles before he died in 2015. David’s family’s business on Church Street has been around since Model-T’s were new. He used to man the pump there in front of Peabody’s Automobiles and was a very interesting fellow to talk to. He would tell stories about how Greenwich residents were pioneers in buying and driving some of the first cars.
Just as then, you can expect Greenwich residents to be the early adopters of many of these high-tech, and at least initially, high-cost cars. The Tesla’s we see so much of in Greenwich have a lot of the capabilities needed for full autonomous driving.
So, what changes will self-driving cars bring to Greenwich? In the first phase with only a few cars I wouldn’t expect to see much change in the way Greenwich operates, but let’s skip the transition phase and look at what Greenwich might be like when self-driving cars are common.
Once people are relieved of the need to watch the road they can do a variety of other things; read, watch TV, talk, surf the net and conduct business meetings. As a result, longer trips will seem less of a problem. Imagine “meeting” your friends for dinner as soon as you get in the car. Also, people who find driving difficult will have many more options as to where they live. Whether unable to drive because of age, disability, or vision impairment their car will still get them where they want to go. As result mid-country and backcountry homes are likely to see more demand.
And it won’t just be seniors that take to self-driving cars, children will also be likely to use them as parents won’t have to ferry their kids to sleepovers, sports events and school. Babies may be taken to the babysitter in a self-driving car, that parents can video monitor on their cell phones all the way to the babysitter. We might even see the rise of night-care at centralized babysitting centers.
We also may see their parents become bigger partiers as DUI’s will be a thing of the past. Bars may hire people to put patrons in their car and make sure it is programmed for home. Not only will DUI’s drop, but all traffic accidents will decline, particularly in the next stage of self-driving cars; fully networked cars.
Once every car knows where every other car is, the odds they will have an accident become very small. And it won’t only be the cars that are networked, people will be too. Cars will not only see you when you cross the street, but your cellphone will tell them where you are well before you get to the corner. The car via the network information will slow down or speed up so it is not there when you get to the corner. Ultimately, things like stoplights, traffic cams and all the associated wires may disappear.
Once there is a network of moving things where every device knows where every other device is, we will see another huge round of changes. Cars can form high-speed “trains” on I-95. The result will be more cars, moving faster in much less space. As a result, we may see longer-distance commutes that take less time. People will arrive sooner and less stressed out. Greenwich residents can then work in a much wider range of places.
We may also see Greenwich Avenue turned into a pedestrian mall with cars. People can walk wherever they want and cars will simply avoid them without emergency stops. Most parking spots will on Greenwich Avenue will disappear as cars will drop off their passengers and proceed to the railroad parking lot to wait until they are needed. When you need a car, it may not be the car that dropped you off if you used a COD service.
The COD or car on demand service may be the Uber model where you hail a self-driving car when you want one, but more likely we’ll see a subscription service where you pay a monthly fee for unlimited transportation. It may be like the old street car service that we had before cars. Each service will have a regularly patrolling set of cars and the nearest one will come by and pick you up as you exit the shop on Greenwich Avenue. With a COD service, you would like have different levels of luxury you could subscribe to and also different vehicles. You could request a one passenger, two passenger, van, or truck type vehicles depending on what you needed.
All these vehicles will look different and not all of them will be cars. You may be see a pizza delivery box carrier rumbling down the road, which may be next to an Amazon or UPS delivery cube. What you likely won’t see are a lot of sports cars once cars are networked as everything will be moving at the same speed. Speeding tickets will decline as car speeds will be monitored and for those injudicious enough to speed, a ticket will arrive in the mail. Bank robberies will decline as the police will simply turn off the robbers’ car, which will stand out as the only car speeding. With less crime and fewer accidents, we will also see major changes in policing, litigation, and insurance.
The idea of personal privacy will also change drastically as every car’s and every person’s movements will be tracked to make the network work. Barriers will be put in place to protect peoples’ location data, but these can be removed with a court order.
Car dealers’ businesses will also drastically change and auto body shops may change to retro-fitting older cars with self-driving technology.
Houses will also change as some people decide to go all COD service and turn their garage into a rec room. Large houses can have smaller parking areas as people get dropped off by these COD services and families that used to have four cars, one for each driver, now get by with one car and a multi-passenger COD service.
Now I can be sure that much of this is wrong, since so many of the consequences of self-driving cars are unpredictable, but we will see a lot of changes in Greenwich. Greenwich will see many of these cars first and it would be great if we were a leader in adopting this technology and implementing the changes needed to encourage its use while also protecting us from the downsides of these changes.
Mark Pruner is an awarding agent at Berkshire Hathaway in Greenwich, Connecticut, firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-969-7900.