How Self-Driving Cars Could Impact Your Commute [2021 Update]

Self-driving cars will impact your commute by giving you more free time before work, enabling you to check emails, read, catch up on the news, or prepare for meetings. Americans, on average, spend 9.5 hours on commutes to and from work each month. The most significant positive aspect of self-driving cars, according to Millennials, is increased productivity.

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Sara Routhier, Managing Editor and Outreach Director, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming world o...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Jun 12, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Self-driving cars are finally becoming a reality in the United States
  • Autonomous vehicles have the potential to drastically decrease traffic
  • AVs could save each driver 150+ hours and over $2k in just one year
  • Read on to learn how people across the U.S. feel about these robo-cars
  • How will you use the free time you gain when your car drives you around?

How Autonomous Vehicles Could Affect Y'our Commute

Snail speeds, horns blaring, and hours upon hours of wasted time. If there’s one thing Americans are sure to agree on, it’s that commuting to and from work is a giant pain.

For decades, people have fantasized about lying back and eating breakfast in a self-driving car. In an ideal world, rush-hour traffic would run smoothly, and stress levels would be nonexistent.

But as autonomous cars finally become a reality, are people still on board with the benefits?

We surveyed about 1,000 people about the time they spend commuting, their opinions of autonomous vehicles, and the money their drive to work really costs them.

We defined autonomous vehicles as self-driving cars, also known as robot cars, or driverless cars. That said, the future of commutes is just beginning – keep reading to see what it could bring.

Owning a car with advanced autonomous features can lead to insurance discounts with some car insurance companies. Whether you own an autonomous car or don’t, find cheaper rates by entering your ZIP code into our FREE online quote comparison tool above.

Or you can head to our 2021 compare car insurance companies page, which includes detailed statistics about the top insurance companies like rates, financial strength ratings, and more.

In this article, we’ll also cover related topics such as available self-driving cars in 2020, self-driving car pros and cons, self-driving car companies, and self-driving car technology. We’ll cover Tesla self-driving cars specifically, as well as when self-driving cars will be available.

Just so you know, the cost of self-driving cars for sale can be expensive, according to various self-driving cars articles. Let’s get started.

Making Commuting Simpler with Autonomous Vehicles

The Future of Commuting

Getting paid for commuting may take away some of the aggravation brought on by rush-hour traffic, but so too would autonomous cars. That being said, nearly 40 percent of respondents would be willing to increase their commute if they had an autonomous car.

Less than 20 percent thought an autonomous car would save them money, but almost 67 percent thought it would be easier. It is unsurprising then that the car brands with the most autonomous features are increasing in demand year after year.

Being able to rely on your car to do the driving and not having to be alert constantly could free up a bunch of time – but would people take this opportunity to get some shut-eye or eat breakfast?

Surprisingly, the majority of respondents said they would listen to the radio or music. Drivers may not think about it when they get inside the car – it’s almost automatic for some to hit the radio and turn up the volume – but driving while listening to music can be a distraction, decreasing driving performance and increasing errors and aggression.

On the other hand, nearly 59 percent of people said they would spend that time reading or answering emails. Almost 38 percent said they would sleep, but over 37 percent said they would continue to stay alert as if driving.

Letting the car take control left some people willing to give up a little too much control. Nearly 13 percent of people said they would consume drugs and/or alcohol during their commute if they had an autonomous car. While autonomous cars may operate themselves, getting behind the wheel while intoxicated is still dangerous and a crime.

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Disadvantages of Commutes Without Self-Driving Cars

The Harsh Reality of Commuting

On average, Americans spent 26 minutes commuting to work one way. Thirty minutes of your day may not sound like a lot, but add a two-way trip five days each week, and you’ll wish for that time back. In fact, people spent four hours each week and over nine days each year commuting to and from work.

Considering most employees get a limited number of paid days off, their commutes equate to 67 percent of two weeks. Commuting to and from work in America isn’t considered working time and, therefore, isn’t compensated.

In addition to the hours spent, your mileage can affect your car insurance as well. Generally, the more miles you travel, the higher your car insurance rates.

Lost Time and Money Due to Commuting

Lost Time to Commuting

Autonomous cars may not bring all the freedom people want, but they could make traffic and commuting a bit less stressful. And in some states — such as the five states with the most traffic — they’re bound to benefit drivers more than others.

Most people may think of Los Angeles’ bumper-to-bumper highways or New York’s horn-blaring streets, but aside from the total cost of congestion in 2018, the two cities weren’t home to the worst traffic.

In fact, Boston, Massachusetts, topped the chart for the longest time spent commuting with 164 hours each year. Residents of Boston lost nearly an entire week of their year commuting during peak hours in 2018.

With the average length of a baseball game being 3.04 hours, Boston drivers could watch nearly 54 Red Sox games (one-third of the season) with all that lost time.

Washington, D.C., wasn’t too far behind, with residents spending 155 hours commuting. This can affect the Washington, D.C., car insurance rates. These cities also cost drivers the most money (fuel and social cost): In Boston, $2,291 was lost per driver, and $2,161 was lost per Washington, D.C., driver.

CITIESHOURS PER YEARMONEY LOST PER DRIVERTOTAL MONEY LOST IN 2018
Boston, MA164$2,291$4,100,000,000
Washington, DC155$2,161$5,000,000,000
Chicago, IL138$1,920$6,600,000,000
Seattle, WA138$1,932$2,800,000,000
New York City, NY133$1,859$9,600,000,000
Los Angeles, CA128$1,788$9,200,000,000
Pittsburgh, PA127$1,776$1,600,000,000
Portland, OR116$1,625$1,500,000,000
San Francisco, CA116$1,624$2,400,000,000
Philadelphia, PA112$1,568$3,500,000,000
Atlanta, GA108$1,505$3,500,000,000
Miami, FL105$1,470$3,500,000,000
Austin, TX104$1,452$1,300,000,000
Houston, TX98$1,365$3,700,000,000
Charlotte, NC95$1,332$1,400,000,000
Baltimore, MD94$1,315$1,500,000,000
Honolulu, HI92$1,282$500,000,000
Nashville, TN87$1,221$1,000,000,000
Tampa, FL87$1,216$1,400,000,000
Denver, CO83$1,152$1,400,000,000
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While New York City may be jam-packed with taxis carrying tourists, the traffic in Los Angeles may be less about tourism and more about its growing population and subsequent increase in car ownership.

However, looking at the overall cost of congestion in 2018, traffic in Los Angeles and New York City cost significantly more than any other city. Compared to $4.1 billion lost in Boston, the Big Apple and City of Angels lost $9.6 billion and $9.2 billion, respectively.

Of course, many residents of New York City don’t drive at all, using the city’s extensive public transportation network. But, for those who drive, they still need car insurance. Like with most other states, there is a penalty for driving without insurance in New York.

Turning to autonomous cars may be a solution for the clogged roads of LA, but the city is looking at a more quick-but-controversial fix: a congestion pricing policy that would charge drivers for using traffic-ridden roadways.

Los Angeles isn’t the only city in California with a congestion problem, though. San Francisco ranked in at No. 9, with residents losing 116 hours commuting each year. That’s almost enough time for residents to listen to the “Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire” audiobook 3.5 times.

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Changes in Congestion by Major City

State That Would Benefit the Most Due to Self-Driving Cars

The highest rates of congestion don’t necessarily mean they’ve gotten worse. For Boston, the opposite was actually true. From 2017 to 2018, the congestion rate decreased by 10 percent, putting Boston in the top five for the largest decrease. New York City also saw a slight change, with congestion decreasing by 4 percent.

Traffic in Los Angeles, on the other hand, didn’t change a bit. Along with Seattle, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Bakersfield, traffic remained the same from 2017 to 2018.

Nashville, Tennessee, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, saw the greatest increase in congestion year over year, increasing by 20 percent.

Memphis closely followed with a 19 percent increase. Tennessee faces a similar problem as Los Angeles, in that the booming population simply doesn’t have enough roads to support it. Not only is congestion worsening on Tennessee’s roads, but car crashes have also been on the rise.

The Good and Bad of Self-Driving Cars

The Good and Bad of Autonomous Cars

While new driving safety technologies come out each year, there are still ups and downs to autonomous cars. However, the majority of people who commuted 10 to 50 miles one way agreed autonomous cars would allow them to be more productive. Just under a third also thought there would be fewer accidents, and over 22 percent thought their insurance rates would decrease.

On the more negative side, 43 percent of commuters said they would be less aware of their surroundings, and nearly 41 percent said they would no longer pay attention to the road.

While there have been self-driving car accidents, a recent study found that the autonomous system wasn’t at fault. When self-driving cars become the norm, it isn’t faulty technology we have to look out for. It’s humans.

Less Stress on the Commute to Work

Self-driving cars are poised to invade our streets are but congestion is increasing faster than autonomous cars can roll out. As some state populations increase, commuters’ need for autonomous vehicles may become more and more apparent.

But that extra time won’t necessarily eliminate the fear associated with giving up control. People may want to eat breakfast, check their emails, and even sleep during their commute to work, but not everyone will automatically be on board.

The newness of autonomous cars may be intimidating, but the productivity they could allow, the decrease in congestion they could bring, and the monetary savings experienced by making the leap might be worth it.

If you don’t have an autonomous vehicle quite yet, though, you can still cut costs associated with driving. You should start by looking at the best car insurance companies and plans to ensure you’re meeting your needs without breaking the bank.

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Frequently Asked Questions: Dangers & Advantages of Self-Driving Cars

Now that we’ve covered why self-driving cars can be beneficial in the future, let’s get to your frequently asked questions. In this section, we answer the following questions and many more:

  • What cars are self-driving today?
  • How many self-driving cars are there?
  • Is Telsa a self-driving car?

Scroll down for the answers.

#1 – What cars are self-driving today?

There are a number of cars that are close to self-driving today and they come from major auto manufacturers like Telsa, Volvo, Toyota, and BMW. However, there are no cars that are fully autonomous yet.

#2 – Why self-driving cars are a bad idea?

A major foreseeable problem with self-driving cars is that they are run or heavily reliant on technology and software. This can lead them to be vulnerable to hackers, who hypothetically could take over the system and direct the car where they want.

#3 – How many self-driving cars are there?

Are there self-driving cars on the road? There are no fully autonomous cars on the market today, though there are some available in trial settings such as Waymo’s use of autonomous vehicles in retirement villages, which are inherently a less risky environment than city streets.

#4 – What year will self-driving cars be available?

Wondering when will self-driving cars be available? While no one knows for certain when there will be self-driving cars for sale, the general gist is that sometime in this decade (the 2020s) autonomous vehicles will be available for purchase, whether on a small scale or a large scale.

#5 – What is the cheapest self-driving car?

The self-driving car brands with autonomous features that are most affordable include standard cars like the Ford Fusion, smaller SUV models like the Toyota RAV4, and others. There are no completely autonomous cars available for purchase yet.

#6 – Is a Tesla a self-driving car?

While Teslas have not reached the point for full autonomy, the company has released a statement saying that the cars buyers have purchased can have their software upgraded once the technology for full autonomy has been developed. So you can expect to see self-driving cars at Tesla in the future.

#7 – Do self-driving cars stop at red lights?

This has been a tricky issue for a little bit but major pioneers in the autonomous car space have made progress on this issue, with Tesla rolling out a feature that has cars stop at stop signs and red lights.

#8 – What are the disadvantages of a self-driving car?

At the moment, the technology for self-driving cars is expensive, which makes the car themselves very expensive to purchase. There are also questions about the safety of the technology and its resistance to being hacked, as well as privacy concerns.

#9 – Are there cars that drive themselves?

Currently, there are no cars that can completely drive themselves. Many cars have reached the later stages of autonomous driving, however, and it’s likely that fully autonomous driving vehicles will be here soon. Some companies such as Uber and Dominoes are experimenting with autonomous food delivery driving.

#10 – How do you activate a Tesla self-driving car?

To activate this feature, press and hold the button “Come to Me” or alternatively select “Go to Target” and set the target that you want the Tesla to go to.

#11 – Does Tesla Autopilot stop at red lights?

As of 2020, the Tesla Autopilot feature can handle intersections, including stopping at red lights.

#12 – Who is leading self-driving cars?

While Tesla gets a lot of hype for its semi-autonomous cars, Waymo (a Google company) has been seen as the leader in autonomous car technology for a number of years. The field itself is crowded with dozens of companies working on self-driving car technology.

#13 – How far are we from self-driving cars?

The earliest thoughts are by 2023, we’ll have limited self-driving cars that can go to certain destinations but can only be deployed during a limited set of circumstances, such as good weather.

#14 – How much will a self-driving car cost?

No one knows for certain, though likely it will be very expensive. As an example, Tesla’s “Full Autopilot” option costs an extra $10,000, which is $2,000 more than it has been in previous years.

#15 – Is self-driving legal?

Self-driving legality depends a great deal on state laws. However, almost all states require someone to be in the car even if it can drive itself under limited circumstances. This is because of possible errors in self-driving car technology that could result in an accident.

#16 – How much safer is a self-driving car?

Around 30% of all car accidents are caused by sensing, perceiving, or incapacitation errors, which might all be avoided with perfect self-driving cars. However, self-driving cars come with risks, such as being hacked or system errors.

Methodology: Analyzing Self-Driving Cars

This study used two data sources. The first data source was INRIX, and the second was a survey from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. In the survey, we gathered 999 respondents. The respondents who were excluded missed an attention-check question.

Throughout the survey, any outliers were excluded from our data. Of the able respondents, 47 percent were women, and 53 percent were men. Our respondents ranged in age from 19 to 68 with a mean of 34 and a standard deviation of 10.1.

INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard calculates time lost in congestion by employing peak, off-peak, and free-flow data. The peak corresponds to the absolute worst portion of the morning and afternoon commute. Off-peak is the low point between the peak periods.

An economic analysis was performed to estimate the total cost to the average driver in a city and a total cost to the city population.

The direct costs are borne directly by the car driver through their use of the roads in congestion and include the value or opportunity cost of the time they spent needlessly in congestion, plus the additional fuel cost and the social cost of emissions released by the vehicle.

To calculate the cost of congestion for each city, we multiplied the number of commuters in the city by the money lost per driver.

In this survey, there are a number of calculations. These calculations used the average time (26.1 minutes, according to Census.gov) it takes to commute to and from work to estimate how many hours/days people are commuting.

Also, we calculated the things commuters could do with their yearly commute time by using the average length of a baseball game and the length of the Game of Thrones audiobook.

Limitations of Study

The survey data we are presenting are self-reported. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include but are not limited to selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. As a result, the outliers in this study have been excluded.

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Fair Use Statement

Interested in sharing our findings on congested commutes and autonomous cars? The graphics and information from this project are available for non-commercial reuse.

Feel free to share them as much as you’d like across the web, on social media, and at work. Just don’t forget to link back to this page to give the authors proper credit.

Even if you don’t own a car with the most up-to-date autonomous features, you can still save on car insurance. Just plug your ZIP code into our FREE online quote generator to find the best car insurance rates in your area.

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