Driverless Cars
Car companies are picking up automobile concepts such as this Lexus SL 600 Integrated Safety driverless research vehicle, shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January in Las Vegas.

Driverless Cars – Congestion-Cutters or Traffic-Creators?

A new report released by the government has shown that driverless cars could mean mixed fortunes for the UK’s busiest roads.

The report released by the Department for Transport said that there would be a ‘decline in network performance’ over the short-term, as some cars start to become driverless. Other cars will be adapting to the new presence on the roads, and congestion would actually increase for some time. The driverless cars themselves would also be configured to drive more cautiously than human drivers, which could result in slower driving initially.

It wouldn’t until the percentage of driverless cars on the roads hit 50% or even 75% that congestion improves on a noticeable scale. In this case, the time spent stuck in traffic could be reduced on average by around 12.4%.

Using a computer programme to predict congestion patterns and journey times, the Department for Transport found that if there was a full road network of autonomous cars, shorter urban journeys would be reduced by up to 30%. Journeys on some of the country’s motorways and busiest roads would even be around 4.1% faster.

The conclusion of the report did eventually state that driverless cars, if implemented properly and safely, could benefit the country’s packed road network, improving the flow of traffic through many busy towns and cities, and offering more reliable journey times for those on tight schedules.

The future of the roads

The report comes after a survey was published by KPMG showing that around half of the car owners of today won’t even want to own a vehicle in the future, and will move towards self-driving and electric cars as soon as the technology is available. Experts predict that the change could start to happen in the second half of the next decade, and manufacturers are starting to move towards self-driving technology in anticipation.

The survey of car manufacturing bosses showed that ‘robot taxis’ could soon be revolutionizing the UK’s roads, with the country’s dense urban population creating the perfect conditions for the early adoption of self-driving cars. The report also predicted that BMW, Toyota, Honda, Ford and Tesla will be the pioneers of the autonomous driving trend, bringing groundbreaking innovation to the forefront more effectively than other car manufacturers.

The progress of self-driving cars

Driverless cars are already being pioneered across the world, with Uber’s first self-driving fleet launching in Pittsburgh in 2016. They’re currently being supervised by a human in the driver’s seat, but if the trials prove successful, they could soon be fully autonomous. Mercedes, BMW and Tesla have already launched cars which boast some kind of driverless capability – these include traffic jam assistance and fully automated parking features. Many other firms like Ford and the tech giants Google and Apple are also working on their own autonomous vehicles, with launch dates varying from the end of 2017 to 2021 in Ford’s case.

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