Self-driving cars and the value of time

7 min reading time
Time is money. But exactly how much is it worth? Researchers have determined the value of an hour gained with an autonomous car. Read on to learn about the study and for our 5 tips for putting that extra time you get from having a self-driving vehicle to good use.

14 June 2019

How much money would one hour of leisure time be worth to you?

Your time is valuable. That’s why it’s so frustrating to waste it sitting in traffic or looking for a parking spot. But is it possible to measure its exact value in money?

This is the question that the Stuttgart-based Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering investigated. For its “Value of Time” study, researchers asked 500 people in Germany, the US and Japan questions like: How much money would one hour of leisure time gained from autonomous driving be worth to you? And what would you do with that extra time?

The results are compelling for anyone interested in autonomous driving (➜ The road to autonomous driving). In the future, we will see more situations where your car will be able to drive itself if you want it to, like in stop-and-go traffic or on packed highways.

You won’t need to have your hands on the wheel, your feet on the pedals or your mind on the road anymore. You’ll be able to concentrate on more fun things instead. So not only are self-driving cars safer and more comfortable, they also give you the freedom to spend your time the way you want to.


What is time worth?

The key finding from the study is: 18 US dollars (around 16 euros). This is how much the people surveyed in each country were prepared to pay on average for an hour of free time during the day. According to the study, Germans value their time most, with an average of 20 US dollars (18 euros). The Japanese would pay 17 US dollars (15 euros) for an extra hour of time, while Americans would give 16 US dollars (14 euros).

Whether they could use their travel time for communication, entertainment or boosting their productivity played a key role in the outcome because the respondents were most willing to pay for these things. They would give less for other activities like sleeping, eating and drinking or personal care and fitness.


What does traffic “cost”?

So 18 US dollars per hour is the amount used to measure how much time we “spend” on the road:

  • American drivers spend an average of nearly an hour every day on the road or sitting in traffic. If we convert this amount of time into monetary value, it amounts to 5,700 US dollars (5,100 euros) a year.
  • Los Angeles tops the list for having the world’s worst traffic congestion. In order to maintain their spot at the top, the typical L.A. resident spends 102 hours (worth 1,593 US dollars (1,428 euros)) a year stuck in traffic.
  • Drivers in Washington DC have an average daily commute of almost 1.5 hours to and from work. Commuters in the US capital value their time on workdays at around 23 US dollars (21 euros), which is about 5,800 US dollars (5,200 euros) in a year that has approximately 250 workdays.

  • Germans waste an average of 41 hours per year – or 732 US dollars (656 euros) – just looking for a parking spot, according to a study done by data experts at INRIX. In the future, cars will be able to find parking spots on their own thanks to connectivity and self-driving car technology.

5 tips for using the time you gain

All of this clearly shows not only how valuable our time is, but also how important time gained through autonomous driving is. So the only question left is: What should you do with this precious time you have in a self-driving car? Try to improve your work-life balance? Optimize your time management? We have five tips that go beyond mere efficiency and efficacy to include ideas to help you relax and enjoy your day:

  • Give your time to others – volunteer online
    Volunteering is not only good for others, it’s good for you as well because it adds meaning to your life, which makes you feel happier. A study conducted by the OECD, among others, proved this to be the case. And today, there are more options than volunteering at a care home or coaching a children’s football team. You can volunteer online while your self-driving car gets you where you need to go. There are numerous websites like the UN volunteer website and apps that connect people interested in using their skills to help those in need. And many of the activities can be done during your commute, like drafting a press release for an aid project or sending out e-mails asking for donations.
  • A virtual trip to the doctor
    Visits to the doctor are too important to skip just because your schedule is hectic. So how about seeing your doctor in the car instead? As your self-driving car navigates through traffic, you could discuss what ails you with your doctor in a video chat via the wifi in your vehicle. In several Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and the US; telemedicine is already a fixed feature of the healthcare system. So in the not-too-distant future, your next visit to the doctor could be in your electric self-driving vehicle on your way to work.
So the only question left is: What should you do with this precious time you have in a self-driving car?
  • Get where you want to be while getting where you want to go
    Self-improvement is always a good idea. We think it’s an even better idea when you’re in the car. Improving your mind is the key to having a successful career and mental energy. We recommend using the time you gain from autonomous driving to learn a new language, for example. Apps like Papagei, Duolingo or Babbel can help you. Learning platforms like Coursera help you brush up on your IT, business administration or learning skills. edX can help you with college courses of all kinds – from programming languages to history.
  • Mindfulness replaces attentiveness
    Paying attention on the road is vital for all drivers. But autonomous vehicles allow us to be more observant on the road. Since you don’t have to concentrate on your speed and changing lanes, you can marshall your thoughts and focus your full attention on yourself and your environment. Listen to the hum of the electric motor – follow the flock of birds on the horizon – observe how other drivers are behaving without judging – and if you are in a Level 4 or higher self-driving car, you can even close your eyes to become aware of your body. After concentrating so intently on yourself and your surroundings, you can just let yourself go knowing that your self-driving BMW has everything under control.
  • Family picnics in the family car
    There is still some debate over whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day or not. But no matter which side you’re on, breakfast with your loved ones is undeniably a great way to start your day. So we suggest you pack a delicious meal of pastries, fruit, yogurt and tea in a picnic basket for your whole family to enjoy in the comfort of your driverless car. Even if it takes you a good while to get to school or work, you won’t mind if you’re sharing a good meal with your nearest and dearest.

Time to devote to helping others, your health and well-being, your education, and just being able to spend more time with your family – there could hardly be better reasons for having a self-driving car.

It's high time now to download the free-of-charge e-book by Matthias Hartwig from the Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility (IKEM). Explore the e-book here and find out more about the possible strategic directions and opportunities that autonomous driving offers.

Matthias Hartwig

– Autonomous driving –

Learn more about a world with autonomous vehicles
To the e-book

illustrations: Señor Salme

My favorite space.

The BMW Vision iNEXT.

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