Hit enter to search or ESC to close

Debunking Self-Driving Myths: Your Kids Won’t Need a Driver’s License

Drivers License and Education Collage

Editor’s Note: In this series, Ground Truth asks industry experts to address some of the most pervasive misconceptions about self-driving technology. Here, Michelle Krebs, director of automotive relations for Autotrader Group, tackles a myth about the next generation of drivers. 

For decades, it’s been a rite of passage for American teenagers: Failing your first driver’s license exam.

That painful experience aside, the process of becoming a licensed driver in the United States has meant an awful lot of positive things for the nation’s youngest motorists: Freedom, responsibility, the promise of unrestricted mobility, and new opportunities for breaking curfew. But with autonomous vehicle technology gaining traction, the prospect of self-driving cars whisking the next generation from home to school and back has some people asking: Will my kids even need a driver’s license?

The short answer is yes, says Michelle Krebs, director of automotive relations for Autotrader Group. (Though your children’s children may choose not to get one.) She points out that right now, there are no Level 4-capable self-driving vehicles—those designed to operate without human assistance under specific conditions—widely available in commercial service, such as ride hailing services. And until the vehicles are available at scale, and are guaranteed to take teens wherever they want to go, they will still likely opt for the freedom that comes with a driver’s license. 

“Personal mobility the world over is a big thing—especially for young people,” Krebs says. “That freedom of movement leads to socio-and-economic upward mobility. That is incredibly important from a psychological point of view.” 

While we will certainly see self-driving vehicles commercialized in the coming years, especially in ride-hail and delivery contexts, we are still “a long way off” from personal ownership at a mass scale, Krebs says. “One of the fallacies people have bought into is, I’ll have an autonomous vehicle in my garage soon. But we are so far from that, and initially they are going to be expensive, that it just makes more sense for autonomous-vehicle developers to do them in fleets, rather than to try and sell them to individuals.”

What is easier to imagine is the ways in which autonomy might change the perception of the value of a driver’s license. This will initially be based on the would-be driver’s geographic setting. “Most self-driving technology will be focused on urban areas, to relieve traffic congestion, or to do last-mile services or deliver packages,” Krebs says. As is largely the case today, the kids who skip out on licenses will likely be urban dwellers. “But I grew up in rural America, and it’s hard to imagine that autonomous vehicles are going to be able to cover that huge part of this country any time soon.”

As rideshare services have become widespread and home deliveries have taken the place of some errands, teenagers may be feeling like they don’t need licenses as desperately as they once did. Some may just choose to delay getting them. But, even when autonomous vehicles arrive at scale, teens will still want the freedom to drive at certain times. “If you want to go on a trip, there’s not going to be robotaxis that go everywhere that you want to go,” Krebs says. “There’s still going to be that need for a driver’s license—driving is just not going away anytime soon.”

Then again, even if the need for drivers licenses doesn’t change, the nature of drivers’ education likely will, says Krebs. “When I took my driver’s licence exam, there was no cruise control and no power steering,” she says. “Look at those of us who grew up without anti-lock brakes–you had to unlearn pumping the brakes when that changed.” As we enter the age of autonomous vehicles, “there will possibly be a lot of un-learning and re-learnings.”

In other words, it’s not that we will be unleashing fewer licensed teenagers on the road; it’s that we’ll be simply changing the way we train them. 

Choose your lane

How Autonomous Vehicles Distinguish Between Bicycles and People Who Ride Them

How Autonomous Vehicles Distinguish Between Bikes and People

When it comes to how autonomous vehicles see the world, humans come first, literally. Autonomous vehicles (AVs), like the kind operated by Pittsburgh-based Argo AI, use Machine Learning to detect and classify the objects in their surroundings, identifying people...
Why The League of American Bicyclists is optimistic about autonomous vehicles

Why a Leading Cycling Advocacy Group Is Optimistic About Autonomous Vehicles

As autonomous vehicle use grows, AV companies and the League of American Bicyclists are collaborating on how to ensure cyclists and motorists can share the roads safely, even if the “motorist” is artificial intelligence software. As part of the...

Self-Driving Is Arriving Right On Time. Just Like Ice Cream Did

Seven years ago, I was a self-driving skeptic. Not of the technology. Of all the “experts” promising autonomous vehicles would be everywhere by 2020. You didn’t need to be Nostradamus to know that was ridiculous. All you needed was...
Illustration of a futuristic parking deck turned into a mixed-use space, with AVs driving by

How Autonomous Vehicles Could Help Transform Parking Lots

Researchers say it’s likely that autonomous vehicles (AVs) can help reduce the need for parking lots, opening more room for grass and trees and other elements of nature. It may not seem like it when you’re circling the block...
An illustration of an Argo autonomous vehicle in teal against a backdrop of buildings, a bicyclist, and research papers

7 Big Breakthroughs From Argo Research at CVPR 2022

The 2022 Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR 2022) is nearly here. Thousands of computer scientists, software engineers, and researchers from around the globe will gather in New Orleans to review and discuss their latest work in...

Researchers Predict the Future With Lidar Data

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research, a private-public partnership funded by Argo for advancing the autonomous-vehicle (AV) field, say they have come up with a way to use lidar data to visualize not...

Must Reads