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Self-Driving Cars Could Increase Traffic Instead of Reducing It

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General Motors Cruise AV Interior

Automated vehicles (AVs) promise consumers some unique luxuries that conventional vehicles just can’t provide. Since fully-autonomous vehicles won’t need human drivers, it’ll give consumers more opportunities to relax and get work done while on the road.

For example, commuters can catch up on emails or call personal contacts to minimize the tasks they must complete once they arrive at the office. Those low on sleep can take a short power nap en route to their destination.

Despite these potential conveniences, AVs might add one inconvenience to daily life when it comes to driving. The latest study from the University of California, Santa Cruz suggests that AVs will increase traffic instead of helping alleviate it.

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Photo: Minesweeper

The research

Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California, recently published the study. He and his team used a traffic micro-simulation model and game theory to evaluate the joint impact of self-driving cars and parking costs in city centers. The group found that it would take just 2,000 AVs navigating downtown San Francisco to slow traffic to fewer than 2 mph.

Why the added congestion? Unlike traditional vehicles, AVs don’t have to park. Instead, they can drop passengers off at their destination then cruise around town so their owner can save money on parking fees.

A possible solution

Per MediaPost’s Chuck Martin, one potential fix would be to charge AV owners a “congestion fee,” for cruising around the city center instead of parking in a conventional parking space. Though Millard-Ball claims this fee would still be cheaper for consumers than paying for public parking.

We await more details in the days ahead as AV technology progresses and urban planners find effective solutions to the potential increase in congestion that AVs will bring.

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News Source: MediaPost