crashing trendThis post is a break from my series on building the best website for your law firm. I’ll return to that discussion this Thursday. I’m writing this article due to some recent developments and evidence which indicates that personal injury law is about suffer a rapid, rapid, rapid, rapid (rapid) decline as a viable practice area. Earlier this year I wrote on why the legal profession would decline in 2017. As of this writing the overall profession has lost roughly 1,400 jobs year to date while actually adding a little more than 20,000 new lawyers to the attorney population.1 As discouraging as those numbers are to most legal professionals, they’re nothing to what seems to be happening currently. Let’s look at what the immediate future holds for practitioners of personal injury law.

Many attorneys see personal injury law as an incredibly lucrative area. Talk to most long-time PI lawyers, however, and they’ll tell you that the practice area has been declining for years. As an example, in 2006 there were 42,708 traffic deaths in the United States2. By 2016 that number had dropped to 37,4613. This was in spite of the fact that the U.S. population increased during this time. The reason for this large decrease can be put on improvements in automotive safety. This decline in auto accidents appears to be kicking into a higher gear as 2017 closes out and the drop is going to be really extreme in 2018. Here are the two reasons why.

Personal injury law will decline in 2018 due to better safety features and vehicle leasing

Have you watched a car commercial recently? You’ve probably noticed how many car companies are touting their new safety features such as automatic breaking and front crash prevention. It has been estimated that those features can reduce rear-end collisions by as much as forty percent4. The reason this is now a really big frickin’ deal is that car companies are making those features standard for cars of all price points on their 2018 models. Mazda, for example, has done so.5 This means that anyone getting a 2018 model, which you can do now, will be far less likely to get into a car accident.

Auto leasing is going to get the aforementioned safety technology onto the road far more quickly than most attorneys realize. Society’s increase in automotive leasing means that people are getting new cars far more frequently than they did in the past. This, in turn, means that people are getting new safety technology more quickly than they did in the past. In 2011 roughly twenty-three percent of people leased their cars6. By 2015 that number was up to thirty-three percent7. This means that roughly one out of three people are likely getting into a new 2018 model now and, again, 2018 is the year where automatic breaking goes from being a “high end car” feature to being standard.

We’re starting to see evidence on how the rapid advance of auto breaking availability is impacting personal injury law. As a few examples, from January 1, 2016 through November 26, 2016 the Ohio Highway Patrol responded to 58,383 auto accidents. During the same time period, for 2017, that number dropped to 57,3008. The city of Peoria, Illinois has seen a six percent drop in the number of year-to-date car crashes from 2016 to 20179. Again, those 2018 cars are just hitting the road and a lot of people will be getting into them as their leases expire. This means that the number of car accidents in the U.S. has likely started to decrease dramatically and will drop even more over the next several months as more of those new cars get on the road.

As much as the facts above might make attorneys worry. They’re nothing compared to what’s coming.

Driverless cars will reduce the need for personal injury lawyers in 2018

Driverless technology has officially arrived. Waymo, Google’s autonomous driving division, is currently operating vehicles in the Phoenix area with no safety driver behind the wheel. They will be launching an Uber-style ride sharing service, using these vehicles, in the next few months10. I’ll spare you the statistics but rest assured that these vehicles will be essentially accident free. The big thing is that this technology will be ubiquitous, throughout the United States, in short order. Let’s look at why.

You’re undoubtedly familiar with Uber and Lyft. In 2013 most Americans hadn’t even heard of these ride-hailing services. By 2014 they were in a large number of U.S. cities and were battling for regulatory approval. By 2015 these regulatory battles were mostly over and these services were in essentially all U.S. markets. That’s a pretty fast move to ubiquity. In 2013 most people had not heard of Uber. By 2015 the company’s name had become a verb; people now use phrases such as “I’ll Uber over.” The big thing to understand is that, as opposed to Uber and Lyft, regulators and legislators are openly embracing the idea of driverless cars. The adoption of driverless technology, which will be almost completely accident free, is going to be rapid in 2018 and it will be faster than was the adoption of Uber and Lyft.

The bottom line is that is personal injury practice has been declining for years. Starting……..right now………that gradual decline is going to enter a rapid descent.

References:
1 – ABA National Lawyer Population Survey – https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/market_research/Total%20National%20Lawyer%20Population%201878-2017.authcheckdam.pdf

2 – List of motor vehicle deaths in U.S. by year – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year

3 – See reference 3

4 – CRASHES AVOIDED, Front crash prevention slashes police-reported rear-end crashes – Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news/desktopnews/crashes-avoided-front-crash-prevention-slashes-police-reported-rear-end-crashes

5 – Mazda Makes Key Safety Features Standard on (Almost) Every 2018 Model – Consumer Reports –
https://www.consumerreports.org/car-safety/mazda-makes-key-safety-features-standard-on-almost-every-2018-model/

6 – Report: More new cars leased than ever – USA Today – https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2016/03/03/report-more-new-cars-leased-than-ever/81286732/

7 – See reference 6

8 – Ohio State Highway Patrol Statistics – Accessed on November 28, 2017 – http://statepatrol.ohio.gov/statistics/

9 – Peoriagov.org – Accessed on November 28, 2017 – http://www.peoriagov.org/content/uploads/2012/11/Statsreport_OCT2017.sdo__1510957642_add.pdf

10 – WAYMO HAS TAKEN THE HUMAN OUT OF ITS SELF-DRIVING CARS – wired.com – https://www.wired.com/story/waymo-google-arizona-phoenix-driverless-self-driving-cars/