Will robot cars drive traffic congestion off a cliff? (Update)

Will robot cars drive traffic congestion off a cliff?
In this May 13, 2014 file photo, a Google self-driving car goes on a test drive near the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Self-driving cars are expected to usher in a new era of mobility, safety and convenience. The problem, say transportation researchers, is that people will use them too much. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Self-driving cars are expected to usher in a new era of mobility, safety and convenience. The problem, say transportation researchers, is that people will use them too much.

Experts foresee robot cars chauffeuring children to school, dance class and baseball practice. The disabled and elderly will have new mobility. Commuters will be able to work, sleep, eat or watch movies on the way to the office. People may stay home more because they can send their cars to do things like pick up groceries they've ordered online.

Researchers believe the number of miles driven will skyrocket. It's less certain whether that will mean a corresponding surge in traffic congestion, but it's a clear possibility.

Gary Silberg, an auto industry expert at accounting firm KPMG, compares it to the introduction of smartphones. "It will be indispensable to your life," he said. "It will be all sorts of things we can't even think of today."

Cars that can drive themselves under limited conditions are expected to be available within five to 10 years. Versions able to navigate under most conditions may take 10 to 20 years.

Based on focus groups in Atlanta, Denver and Chicago, KPMG predicts autonomous "mobility-on-demand" services—think Uber and Lyft without a driver—will result in double-digit increases in travel by people in two age groups: those over 65, and those 16 to 24.

Vehicles traveled a record 3.1 trillion miles in the U.S. last year. Increased trips in autonomous cars by those two age groups would boost miles traveled by an additional 2 trillion miles annually by 2050, KPMG calculated. If self-driving cars without passengers start running errands, the increase could be double that.

And if people in their middle years, when driving is at its peak, also increase their travel, that yearly total could reach 8 trillion miles. "This could be massive," Silberg said.

Driverless cars are expected to make travel both safer and cheaper. With human error responsible for 90 percent of traffic accidents, they're expected to sharply reduce accidents, driving down the cost of insurance and repairs.

But the biggest cost of car travel is drivers' time, said Don MacKenzie, a University of Washington transportation researcher. That cost comes down dramatically when people can use their travel time productively on other tasks.

A study by MacKenzie and other researchers published in the journal Transportation Research: Part A estimates that the vehicles can cut the cost of travel by as much as 80 percent. That in turn drives up miles traveled by 60 percent.

"You are talking about a technology that promises to make travel safer, cheaper, more convenient. And when you do that, you'd better expect people are going to do more of it," MacKenzie said.

There's a fork ahead in this driverless road, says a report by Lauren Isaac, manager of sustainable transportation at WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, that envisions either utopia or a nightmare.

In the best case, congestion is reduced because driverless cars and trucks are safer and can travel faster with reduced space between them. Highway lanes can be narrower because vehicles won't need as much margin for error. There will be fewer accidents to tie up traffic. But those advantages will be limited as long as driverless cars share roads with conventional cars, likely for decades.

But that scenario depends on a societal shift from private vehicle ownership to commercial fleets of driverless cars that can be quickly summoned with a phone app. Driverless fleets would have to become super-efficient carpools, picking up and dropping off multiple passengers traveling in the same direction.

The congestion nightmare would result if a large share of people can't be persuaded to effectively share robot cars with strangers and to continue using mass transit, Isaac said.

A study last year by the International Transport Forum, a transportation policy think tank, simulated the impact on traffic in Lisbon, Portugal, if conventional cars were replaced with driverless cars that take either a single passenger at a time or several passengers together.

It found that as long as half of travel is still carried out by conventional cars, total vehicle miles traveled will increase from 30 to 90 percent, suggesting that even widespread sharing of driverless cars would mean greater congestion for a long time.

Airlines also may face new competition as people choose to travel by car at speeds well over 100 mph between cities a few hundred miles apart instead of flying. Transit agencies will need to rethink their services in order to stay competitive, especially because the elimination of a driver would make car-sharing services cheaper.

To make the shared-vehicle model work, government would have to impose congestion pricing on highways, restrict parking in urban centers, add more high-occupancy vehicle lanes and take other measures to discourage people from traveling alone in their self-driving cars.

Land-use policies may need to be adjusted to prevent sprawl, or people will move beyond the fringes of metropolitan areas for low-cost housing because they can work while commuting at high speeds. Taxes based on the number of miles a personal vehicle travels are another way to discourage car travel.

All these policy changes would be controversial and difficult to achieve.

While there are "loads of likely positive impacts for society associated with driverless technology," people are right to worry about potential for huge increases in congestion, Isaac said.

"Without any government influence," she said, "human nature is to get into that single occupancy vehicle."


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May 15, 2016
Airlines also may face new competition as people choose to travel by car at speeds well over 100 mph between cities a few hundred miles apart instead of flying.


It doesn't take a robot car to do that, it takes roads designed for rapid transit and laws allowing rapid transit.

Many people seem to really want robot cars, so much so that the hoped for technology is presented as solving almost every problem. A few years ago, it was Jetson's type flying cars which were going to change the world. Now it is robot cars.

There may well be a place for self driving automobiles sometime. For now, they will only increase congestion and cause more accidents.

May 15, 2016
There is already robot cars,.... they're called 'buses',..... and no one will want them for the same reason,...... except those simpletons who stand in place on escalators.


May 15, 2016
easy fix... no operating them without a licensed driver at the wheel.. even if it is automated.
Next problem!

May 16, 2016
There will just also be a boom of autonomous single occupant cars and autonomous micro-vehicles for errand delivery...

Then there will be "autonomous only" lanes that will move much more smoothly than human or mixed lanes.

May 16, 2016
Be afraid, be very afraid. Government's will not be able to resist turning "congestion charges" into new punitive taxes. All that driver time value so easily monitored will be siphoned off by smart drivetime related taxation. After all, who would predict when the first horseless carriages came along the fuel and vehicle excise duties and that exist in some countries on cars?

May 16, 2016
Simple Enough SOLUTION: Just Levitate them. Same Roads...Faster REMOVAL from the Roads!
Easy to say, Tough to Adopt.

May 16, 2016
There is already robot cars,.... they're called 'buses',..... and no one will want them for the same reason,...... except those simpletons who stand in place on escalators.


How can Bus be like them? Buses do NOT come to each & every house. There will be some Conveying Belt mechanism that will take the disabled into the car seat from the house's front door. SEVERAL SIMILAR DIFFERENCES!
So, 8+half hour work per day! OR 231/2 + HALF HOUR Pleasure per day!

May 16, 2016
70% if transport within cities should be by bike or electric bike. Congestion problem solved.

May 16, 2016
Driverless cars are expected to make travel both safer and cheaper. With human error responsible for 90 percent of traffic accidents, they're expected to sharply reduce accidents, driving down the cost of insurance and repairs.


There's the perennial fallacy of thinking that the robot/computer does not err, when it's plain clear that the AI is nowhere competent enough to drive.

Self-driving cars will be put on the road as soon as the companies can make the argument that they're better than the average driver, which means that they won't dramatically reduce the accident rates and may even increase them.

That's because the accident rate of the average driver is a product of the accidents caused by the typical drivers belonging to the vast majority, and the accidents caused by a small minority of reckless, drunk, on drugs etc. drivers who actually cause the majority of accidents, and so what appears average in the statistics is actually worse than the typical driver.

May 16, 2016
Cars that can drive themselves under limited conditions are expected to be available within five to 10 years. Versions able to navigate under most conditions may take 10 to 20 years.


The translation of time estimates by researchers/engineers:

0-3 years: we know how to do it and we have funding
3-5 years: there's some small issues still left to be solved, and/or we can't get funding
5-10 years: it works in a test tube, but we don't know how to push it further, or it's too expensive/non-scalable, or has major unsolved practical issues
10-20 years: some part of it works in a test tube, rest is speculation, or the scheme requires major social engineering to become viable - basically, "Here's to hope"
20+ years: it doesn't work, someone scribbled some equations that show it might work, nobody really understands what it actually is.

May 16, 2016
There's also been an emphasis that robot cars are much safer because they can perfectly maintain safety distances and speeds and react quickly by braking etc. However, accident statistics put these ideas to doubt

http://www.drivin...rash.htm

top ten most common causes of traffic accidents are:

Failed to look properly 35%
Failed to judge other persons's path or speed 18.9%
Careless, reckless or in a hurry 16.2%
Loss of control 14.7%
Poor turn or manoeuvre 14.1%
Travelling too fast for the conditions 10.2%
Slippery road due to weather 10.1%
Pedestrian failed to look properly 7.2%
Sudden braking 7.2%
Following too close 6.7%


Half the reasons to the accidents are inattention behind the wheel (texting/eating/shaving face...) and failure to judge a situation, which are the same issues that the AI in the robot cars are struggling with: it doesn't see, or it doesn't understand what it's seeing

May 16, 2016
There will definitely be more cars on the road as driverless cars become more common. It would be much simpler if all the cars were self driving, then they could move like a train instead of like individuals. The whole Start-Stop reaction time would be eliminated. But with a bunch of people "riding" in thier self driving car, they wont care much about traffic since they don't have to drive.

I always imagined a successful autonomous car deployment would be where certain roads and Highways (or perhaps just Lanes on those roads) were set aside for autonomous cars only, so the benefits would be maximized and no regular human drivers getting in the way. Highways have less obstacles, its a more controlled setting that AI could navigate more reliably. Still keep drivers behind the wheel inside city centers, but let the Highways be setup like 'Traffic Conveyors'. I think this is what works and what most likely we will see first.

May 16, 2016
Requirements for smartcars exceed capabilities of deterministic systems. Some scenarios can only ultimately be decided by living systems with a sense of self and self-preservation. Grafting of simple insect nervous CNS could occur to make rudimentary cyborgs with a true awareness of their surroundings

May 16, 2016
Just sit in a Cushioned bag; Let it Suck it up & Speed up. Once dropped inside the car, stick your head out. This time, let it offer you enough time to get out along with your stupid bag!

May 17, 2016
It would be much simpler if all the cars were self driving, then they could move like a train instead of like individuals.


Then why do you need cars at all? Just run a train/trolley service.

May 18, 2016
IF there was a properly built and financed, NON PROFIT City Transport systems then there would be less need for that many cars, however, most cities see their Rapid Transit facitities as "Income Generators" and take all proceeds from them instead of allowing the system to stay updated and self sustaining and expanding, they have worked to keep it so very inefficient as possible.

Get the makers of cars out of the politicians pockets and we might see more and better mass transit, especially if people keep their Town from trying to Profit on it at The People's expense. The people who use buses tend to be those with no choices, give then better choices and there will be more use of mass transit.

May 20, 2016
most cities see their Rapid Transit facitities as "Income Generators"


Most city mass transit systems are operating at a loss because they are tasked by politicians and planners to serve areas and routes that are too inefficient for the amount of travellers they get, in the name of service availability. It's about trying to please everybody, because if you don't have a bus running when mrs. X comes home from bingo night, she's gonna tell everybody how bad a mayor you are.

Most of the time the busses are running almost empty, and they only seem crowded because you're there when everyone else is there. The routes meander around from neighborhood to neighborhood, stopping at every other street which makes for high fuel consumption, slow speeds and high passenger-miles to get where people are actually going.

That's the major reason why private cars are usually cheaper, faster, and half the time even more environmentally friendly than taking the bus.

May 23, 2016
Then why do you need cars at all? Just run a train/trolley service.


So, lets say I want to get off work, go by the grocery store and another store, then go home. How might I do this with a "train/trolley" service? How long would it take?

People like convenience. Buses and trains are nice in big city centers, but most everywhere else they are just not convenient. Cars go exactly where you want to go, directly.

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