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Autonomous Cars Won't Be a Silver Bullet for Our Traffic Aches, Study Shows

The reason the industry is pushing for autonomous cars is three-fold: first and foremost, they are said to be much safer, cutting the number of lives lost on the roads to, eventually, zero.
Illustration of traffic in urban environment 1 photo
Then there's the efficiency aspect, with the AIs considered to be much better suited to judge when to push the throttle and how hard than our measly brains. Finally, there are the constant traffic congestions that mar most of this planet's busy cities.

Self-driven cars will be able to communicate with each other and also with the infrastructure, meaning they will be far superior at finding the best routes to navigate through the city whilst also keeping a closer distance from each other.

That last part is due to the fact that no decision made by the car in front would ever be able to surprise those following it, since they would all be informed immediately via the wireless communication protocols. It would be like all those vehicles had one universal mind to guide them. Or, if you like, as if all drivers suddenly became mind readers.

Of course, that sounds totally plausible, but there's just one, very big drawback. Well, there are two in fact, but the manufacturers are working to address the fact the vehicles will need a common language to understand each other. The second, though, is a lot trickier, and it's nothing the carmakers can do about it.

It has to do with the way the autonomous cars are going to be phased in on our roads. It will take a few good years before all cars will have self-driving capability and, until then, a study commissioned by UK's Department for Transport shows that not only will the introduction of autonomous cars not help with congestion, but it will actually make it worse.

The research, quoted by The Daily Mail, points that the UK roads will be 0.9 more congested the moment one in four cars will be autonomous. Only when the penetration percentage will go beyond 50 percent, the traffic will begin to show amelioration. Once that threshold is passed, the AI-controlled vehicles will be able to display the full range of their talents and finally have a positive impact on traffic.

The reason why that is, the paper says, is because early autonomous models, with their cautious attitude biased toward safety, will have a hard time dealing with human drivers who, as it has been said before, will be able to troll and bully the self-driving vehicles to their liking. And not too many people are strong enough to resist to this kind of temptation.


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