Will there be more or less congestion with the arrival of driverless cars?

According to a new study, autonomous cars could mean more traffic jams on UK roads

 

According to a new study carried out by the Department for Transport (DfT), the arrival of driverless cars on roads in the UK could mean more traffic jams for the first few years as opposed to less congestion, as initially predicted.

This new report by the DfT flies in the face of the current view held by many, who believe that autonomous cars will mean less congestion on UK roads.

The DfT only expects “a decline in network performance” when one in four cars on British roads are driverless, further stating that congestion will only improve significantly at the point when around 50 to 75% of all cars on UK roads are autonomous.

Will there be more or less congestion with the arrival of driverless cars?

According to a new study, autonomous cars could mean more traffic jams on UK roads © Copyright Sam Kelly and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 

The new study report, entitled Research on the Impacts of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) on Traffic Flow, claims that delays in the UK on major routes and motorways, at peak times, will increase by 0.9% at the point when one quarter of vehicles on British roads are driverless.

The reason for the increase, says the DfT, is that early autonomous vehicles will perform more carefully than the person driving, meaning “a potential decrease in the effective capacity and a decline in network performance.”

Congestion will only be reduced at the point when half to three-quarters of the road network in the UK is taken up with self-driving vehicles. This could take longer than predicted as drivers move over to the new driverless technology.

Director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, Steve Gooding, said: “Much will depend on how an autonomous car’s parameters are set and just how defensively these vehicles will be programmed to drive.”

The study by the DfT used computer software to construct virtual models of various road network parts. As a result, they believe there could be a 40% reduction of delays at peak times on major routes and motorways, only if every single driver in the UK owned a self-driving car.

Despite an increase in congestion when only a quarter of cars on UK roads are autonomous, there may be benefits for an elite number of drivers during the early crossover stages.

Motorists using urban roads could see average delays reduced by 12.4% when only 25% of cars on UK roads are self-driving.

Further research and trials into autonomous cars needs to continue says the DfT, to make sure development of driverless vehicles is “safe and beneficial for all.”

“This exciting and extensive study shows that driverless cars could vastly improve the flow of traffic in our towns and cities, offering huge benefits to motorists, including reduced delays and more reliable journey times,” said Transport Minister John Hayes.

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