Self driving cars will make traffic worse: Study

Andrew Munro 26 September 2017 NEWS

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The study's proposed traffic solutions are already well underway.

A new survey from the University of Sydney's transport and motor industry experts has found that self-driving cars will actually make traffic worse.

It's often been speculated that driverless cars will allow for optimisation of traffic flows to reduce congestion while the reduction in accidents will also prevent delays. However, this new survey, carried out as part of the latest Transport Opinion Survey, draws different conclusions by examining how people plan to use driverless vehicles.

"Pundits promoting the virtues of driverless cars were suggesting that they would contribute to a significant reduction in traffic congestion. Our findings appear contrary to that view," said David Hensher, director of the University of Sydney's Institute of Transport and Logistic Studies.

This is mostly because driverless cars are set to become very popular, with the study finding that people are going to be much keener on "driving" when they won't actually need to drive. 40% of participants said they would probably be using a driverless car more than their typical one, while a quarter said they planned on getting one when it becomes available.

Respondents also said they'd stop using as much public transport, preferring to get behind the autonomous wheel instead. Meanwhile, a third of early adopters said they would be leasing out their autonomous car when not in use.

"The survey suggests a strong uptake which is encouraging at this stage in the debate on the future of driverless vehicles; however, the real challenge is getting society to become more sharing either by allowing others to use their cars or through a third-party mobility plan," said Professor Hensher.

As one potential solution, Hensher floated the idea of imposing a levy on private car use to help combat congestion.

Will driverless cars make congestion better or worse?

It's not yet possible to say definitively, but the findings of this study suggest that traffic will get worse. However, the "real challenge [of] getting society to become more sharing" is already well underway. If that's the hard part then there's probably nothing to worry about.

Uber has very explicitly announced its intention to roll out driverless share cars, ride-share company Lyft has already done the same and driverless taxis have already been successfully tested in Singapore.

Meanwhile, private car sharing is already very well established in Australia's major cities, although it remains fairly unknown in regional areas.

Autonomous vehicles are impacting public transport as well. The city of Sydney is currently testing driverless shuttles at Olympic Park to see how driverless buses are best integrated into existing traffic.

And of course, there are still concerns about the cost. Previous studies have shown that on average, Australians would only be willing to pay $9,000 more for an autonomous vehicle than a standard model. That autonomous technology doesn't come cheap, so a levy might not even be necessary.

The University of Sydney study says driverless cars will make traffic congestion worse, but all the solutions it proposes are already very well underway.

In car news

Picture: Shutterstock

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