Autonomous cars ‘set to increase traffic congestion’


Many people may assume that with the development of self-driving cars in the coming years, this will have a beneficial effect on the number of traffic jams, as the technology could allow vehicles to travel more closely together in safety.

In fact, new research has suggested the opposite may be true, which is something that road planners will have to take into account when designing highways in the future.

The two key factors that will need to be taken into are the level of automation offered by vehicles and the adoption rates by road users, a report by location technology company Here and analyst group SBD found.

It noted that while basic levels of automation such as adaptive cruise control that can keep a set distance to the car ahead could have a small positive role in helping ease congestion, more sophisticated systems could actually have a detrimental effect on traffic flows if user adoption rates remain low.

The potential consequences of highly advanced autonomous cars sharing the roads with vehicles under human control will therefore need to be considered by the automotive industry, and standards will need to be developed for both vehicle and road design to cope with this.

In order to minimise the increase in congestion during these transition periods, the report urged the industry to move away from ‘each-to-their-own’ autonomy, where each car is responsible for itself, and move towards Collaborative Autonomous Cars.

“This includes formalised efforts to break down information silos and establish vehicle, road network and infrastructure data exchanges in conjunction with local, state and national transportation agencies,” it stated.

Andrew Hart, co-author of the study, commented: “Autonomous cars have the potential in the long-term to revolutionise mobility and radically improve the safety of our roads. However, the journey towards the fully autonomous car is full of potholes, which may create short-term pains in unexpected ways.”

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