You can't fight progress. Self-driving cars are coming, and even the most conservative of estimates show that driverless vehicles are on their way.
About 10% of the light vehicles sold in 2035 will be driverless, according to data from IHS Automotive. Having just one in 10 cars on the road driving themselves by that time may not seem like fast enough progress (the hype around autonomous cars is growing quickly, after all). But consider that by 2050, IHS Automotive predicts that we'll reach autonomous car ubiquity.
To get there, Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google is busy building a series of technologies. You've probably already heard about the company's self-driving cars and you likely use its amazingly accurate mapping service. But through its research the company is actually building a car-as-a-service platform (CaaS). IHS Automotive said at the end of last year that Google's map and software systems will be released as a CaaS sometime around 2025.
What does this mean? Essentially, CaaS would make it so that people will be able to use cars, which will drive themselves, without needing to own their own car.
That's notable because about 85% of the world's population doesn't own a driver's license -- and even the U.S. is slowing moving away from them.
A natural move toward self-driving autos
In America, there's been a slow, but consistent, decline of those getting a driver's license. Millennials get a lot of credit for the shift away from traditional driving, but it's not just younger Americans that are changing the automotive landscape.
Uber and car-sharing trends are definitely taking their toll, but the data shows that even before these trends came along American drivers were slowly moving away from drivers license ownership.
Researchers from the University of Michigan recently found that the percentage of Americans aged 16 through 44 who have a drivers license has fallen from 91.8% in 1983 to 76.7% in 2014.
This doesn't mean that everyone without a drivers license will want to hop into a driverless car, of course. And it's likely we'll all need driver's licenses to operate driverless vehicles for many years to come. But if a growing amount of the American population continues to abandon driver's licenses, then by the time 2035 or 2050 rolls around, our population will be primed for driverless car technology.
The real reason driverless cars will take off
Self-driving technology offers us an unprecedented ability to save lives. According to McKinsey and Co., self-driving cars and advanced driving systems could reduce traffic accidents by up 90%. That could potentially save about 29,500 lives each in the U.S., according to estimates from The Atlantic.
By taking the human driver out of the equation nearly 100% of the time, artificial intelligence software will be able to keep all of us much safer on the road. There will plenty of roadblocks before driverless cars become prevalent, but if the estimates of lives saved pan out -- it'll certainly be well worth the wait.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares) and Alphabet (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.