The Self-Driving Car Generation Gap

Innovation and Economic Growth, Privacy and Security and Artificial Intelligence

Article Snapshot


Braden Allenby


Slate, June 22, 2016


For older people, cars are an important symbol of personal freedom, and they are unlikely to embrace self-driving cars; commercial services and millennials will adopt autonomous vehicles first.

Policy Relevance

The shift to self-driving vehicles will disrupt the transportation industry. This shift may come quickly.

Main Points

  • Some technologies become psychologically charged; both cars and computers have become symbols of personal freedom, but air conditioners are not.
  • Younger people are less likely to see cars as vital to their personal freedom; the percentage of people with driver's licenses aged 16 to 44 is decreasing, with the greatest decrease in the youngest age group.
  • For older people, cars are and were the most important technology of freedom, but, for younger people, especially those in cities, smartphones are more important.
  • Millennials will be more likely than older people to be open to autonomous vehicles, including vehicles they share with others rather than own.
  • The shift to on-demand, autonomous vehicles that provide transportation as a service could happen quickly, as buying power shifts from baby boomers to millennials; this will disrupt existing business models.
  • Autonomous commercial vehicles will spread before personal transportation services, because commercial enterprises are more likely to be indifferent to the idea that cars bring freedom.
  • Over time, older drivers might see driverless cars as a technology of freedom, if they can use these vehicles to move around when they are too old to drive themselves safely.

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