Here’s How Driverless Cars Could Kill the Economy

Make no mistake, autonomous cars are coming. But they’re not the only part of everyday life that’s about to lose the human touch. In a recent study by consulting firm PwC, as much as 40% of American jobs could be lost to automation over the next 13 years. Although job outsourcing has become a tried-and-true political talking point on both sides of the aisle, the sad truth is this: From service industry jobs to teaching and journalism, the threat isn’t China and Mexico — it’s robots.

And autonomous cars will be a big part of this shift. With so much of our economy (and culture as a whole) centered on our roads and cars, this technological change will come down the road one day and set up shop in your town. Once that happens, here are eight jobs autonomous vehicles could kill. 

1. Cab drivers

Taxis on Seventh Avenue at Times Square

Taxi drivers have enough problems with Uber and Lyft. | batuhanozdel/iStock/Getty Images

There’s a reason why cabbies around the world are viciously fighting back against Uber and Lyft. On top of ruining their profits in the immediate future, both ride-hailing companies are working on developing autonomous taxis that would knock everyone — including their own drivers — out of the game. With both companies partnering with automakers to help make this happen, the end could be near for taxi drivers.

2. Truck drivers

St. Louis highway

Being a truck driver has always been a tough job. | kevinmwalsh/iStock/Getty Images

Truck driving has always been a give-and-take profession. On the one hand, both drivers and companies want to deliver as much freight as fast as possible — and get paid. On the other hand, regulations are in place to protect the health and safety of drivers and the people they share the road with. It’s a lonely profession, but it’s been a steady career for the better part of a century now. But with companies, such as Tesla, working on autonomous trucks, that could end soon. By cutting the human element out of trucking, freight could be taken across the country much faster. That won’t bode well for truckers.

3. Parts stores


Small parts shops might be out of luck. | iStock/Getty Images

Whether you’re a shade-tree mechanic who likes to change their own oil or in a bind and need a quick fix, parts stores are a lifesaver. And with smaller mom-and-pop stores that have been around forever, some old pros might even be able to help you diagnose what’s wrong with your car without ever having to look under the hood. But with the rise of sites such as Rock Auto, Amazon, and eBay, parts stores are an endangered species. Once Amazon can scale up its same-day delivery options, parts stores will be living on borrowed time.

4. Drive-thru workers

taco drive-thru

There would be no need for people to work the register. | David McNew/Getty Images

Mid-morning coffee runs, lunches on the go, and late-night snacks will all survive into the future but probably not in the way they are now. If any other industry is as eager to go autonomous as the automotive field, it’s fast food. With no one left driving cars — and fast food restaurants of the future likely being fully automated — this reliable first job for generations of people will likely become a thing of the past.

5. Construction workers

Construction site with drills

These workers could be a thing of the past. | binia/iStock/Getty Images

Construction work is vital to the American economy. But what happens when it becomes a thing of the past? In the future, autonomous trucks could haul materials to a construction site, where autonomous bulldozers and backhoes will clear sites and dig foundations. Drones will be the eyes and ears of the small crew of foremen on the ground, while larger drones will bring supplies up to robots working on upper floors. If that sounds too farfetched for you, consider this: A Chinese company called WinSun recently claimed it completed a massive 3D printer that could build 10 single-story houses a day.

6. Airline pilots

Boeing Dreamliner plane

Automation could spread to the airline industry. | James Morgan/Boeing Australia via Getty Images

Being an airline pilot was once a great career: free travel, good pay, and a great pension. Today, airline pilots are overworked, underpaid, and seriously fatigued. The airline industry is infamous for cutting costs wherever it can, and unfortunately pilots could become a thing of the past sooner than later. In 2017, Boeing launched a development program on pilotless airliners.

7. Beat cops

police car

South Korea is already testing it out. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

In the olden days, police officers would walk their beats up and down neighborhoods. Then came the squad car and patrolling the streets from behind steel and glass. But in the future, even that might go away. In South Korea, prisons are guarded by 5-foot robots with 3D cameras and software to recognize individual behavior. They also have an armed robot (developed by Samsung) that patrols the border between North Korea and South Korea that can recognize threats up to 2 miles away. With more and more military equipment making its way into police forces, we have a feeling that the sight of a squad car could someday be replaced by a literal robocop.

8. Insurance companies

Allstate insurance sign

Decreasing traffic accidents mean less work for insurance agents. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Geico, State Farm, and Progressive aren’t panicking just yet because there will be plenty of growing pains for autonomous cars, and it’ll be decades before the majority of car owners give up control of their vehicles. But the whole goal of autonomous cars is to reduce traffic accidents to zero. If that happens, then there’s no real need for car insurance anymore. We’re certain this industry will find a way to survive, but if the shift to automation threatens any market it’s this one.

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