May 8, 2018

Making Room for a Mom-Friendly Invention

Jennifer Huddleston Skees

Legal Research Associate

Andrea O'Sullivan

Program Manager, Technology Policy Program

In honor of Mother's Day, Salary.com's "Mom Salary Survey" lets families tally up all of the unpaid "jobs" that mothers lovingly undertake sans compensation. The list ranges from "tailor" to "coach" and even "recreational therapist." One of the largest and most important tasks is to drive the kids around. But if we're lucky, we may soon be able to scratch that one off of the list.

What if, instead of giving dear old mom floral arrangements or spa gift certificates, we gave her the ultimate maternal dream gift: An automated and super-safe child courier service in the form of driverless cars?

According to a 2017 survey, most parents spend more than five hours a week driving their children to and from school or activities. In fact, more than 1 in 10 parents spend more than 10 hours a week carting their kids around. That's a lot of man (or woman) hours!

Now, parents may enjoy spending time in the car with their children. But that doesn't mean that many don't also find it highly stressful and inconvenient. This is why autonomous vehicles could be a godsend to harried soccer moms, who will no longer need to shuttle their children to all those practices and playdates.

And those parents who simply enjoy that transportational quality time? They would be freed up from the wheel and able to more meaningfully interact with their brood as they all cruise the roads together as passengers.

At this point you may be thinking that it sounds either unsafe or like a fantasy. And you'd be wrong on both counts.

Not only will driverless cars save time for parents, they will literally save children's lives. Every year, more than 600 children die in car accidents and more than 120,000 are injured. Driving is one of the leading causes of childhood death. Parents are often distracted when driving their children, with more than 60 percent admitting they've used a mobile device at the wheel.

Even the parents who avoid such devices have another dangerous distraction while driving: their kids. One study found that driving with children in the backseat was 12 times more distracting than driving while talking on a cellphone. The more than 94 percent of vehicle crashes that are caused by driver mistakes will all but vanish once fully autonomous vehicles are prevalent.

No vehicle will ever be 100 percent safe – and there have been deadly driverless accidents – but research indicates that the widespread adoption of self-driving cars could reduce overall traffic accidents by as much as 90 percent.

While autonomous vehicles may sound like something from a far-off future, they are already here and accessible to some real families. Last April, Waymo launched its Early Rider Program allowing selected families in Phoenix to use self-driving minivans without anyone in the driver's seat through an on-demand service. These families are already enjoying the benefits of a safer and less stressful way of getting to and from destinations.

More than one in three parents say that figuring out transportation for their kids is more stressful than filing taxes. Much like parents must decide how old their children should be before taking the school bus (which itself may be autonomous one day soon), carpooling with a friend or taking an Uber, they will have different comfort levels about at what age to allow them in a driverless car. When parents are ready, this innovation will allow families to schedule safer transportation for children without the stress of negotiating carpools or rearranging other commitments.

The best present for Mother's Day this year might be allowing fully tested autonomous vehicles to get to families faster. Embracing new technologies means giving them a chance to prove the skeptics right or wrong. There is no reason to believe that we won't adapt to fully autonomous vehicles the way we have adapted to many other new safety technologies in our vehicles.

Hopefully, autonomous vehicles will enable us to remove "chauffeur" from the list of tasks that moms gladly take on without compensation, so they can enjoy more time doing what they love most.