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Driverless cars could bring surge in traffic congestion

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Within the next 5-10 years, auto experts expect to see vehicles with some level of autonomy available for public purchase. However, fully or almost fully autonomous cars may not be on the roads and available for public purchase for another 10-20 years. Additionally, services such as Uber will most likely offer driverless services, thereby increasing the mobility of seniors and adolescents. The largest opportunity cost of driving today is the loss of productivity, but Autonomous car companies boast that the passengers may sleep, eat, drink, read, etc while riding. This is expected to increase miles travelled from about 3.1 trillion to potentially 5 trillion by 2050. So what does this mean for consumers?

google carIncreased travel time, decreased opportunity cost of driving, increased productivity, but also increased traffic congestion. In the future, perhaps driverless cars will reduce the width of highway lanes and potentially decrease congestion given that the autonomous cars “won’t need much margin of 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” (Lowy). Airlines and other forms of transportation will face competition if speed limits are raised and people choose to travel by car (with as much luggage as they want) at great speeds. Laws will need to be adjusted and cities/streets remodeled, but in the near future, we should most certainly be expecting greater congestion, potentially for many years until conventional cars are eliminated from the roads.

Personally, I will be interested to see the environmental impact self-driving cars will have. Can engineers design a car that incorporates both the self-driving software and either electric or hybrid technology that makes the car both efficient environmentally and socially?



  1. frankn18

    I also think a seldom talked about factor is the influence on the air transportation industry. Thousands of domestic flights a week are within 6-7 hours driving of the destination. If a car can take a passenger there overnight while sleeping, it seems like this will be the favorable choice. Not only may it be cheaper, but there will be no need to rent a car at the consumers destination. Further, the rental industry will be interesting as a consumer can literally order a car that will show up at their house for them to use.

    May 17, 2016
  2. adamsm19

    Have you found any information about how autonomous cars will interact with conventional cars? I think it is interesting to consider the possible difficulties, particularly congestion, that may occur by having both types of cars on the road. For instance, if conventional cars do not travel as optimally as autonomous cars will this affect how well autonomous cars perform on the road?

    May 17, 2016
  3. helgansg18

    I think it is interesting how the topic of autonomous cars is the big news right now when most projections are set for 10 to 20 years down the road. While top manufacturers and executives weigh in on their projections, suppliers like Federal Mogul continue to innovate and improve their products through research and development. The media may be flooded with hype around fully autonomous cars because the important technologies that don’t receive media attention stay behind close doors until they are brought to the market. As an average reader of news publications I usually only hear about the auto industry in terms of quarterly earnings, different scandals, and buzz around autonomous cars. However, it was only until I met with Mr. Keri at Federal Mogul that I learned of new technologies that will be in new cars in the next five years.

    May 17, 2016
  4. siegels18

    Since we are assuming that the process of adopting autonomous cars will take a long time, I think that most likely more roads will be constructed and more roads will be widened to accompany the increasing driving times of citizens. There are clear obstacles to expanding infrastructure greatly, but I think that if there is enough demand for more room on the road then the government will build more roads. If anyone sees problems with this let me know.

    May 17, 2016
  5. brewsterw18

    Sam, you bring up a really interesting point regarding infrastructure and the constantly changing road structure within the United States. For any state governments, infrastructure on highways and interstates always seems to bring a huge burden economically to the state and federal goverment as a whole with taxes and maintenance of bridges. Therefore, since self-automative cars won’t liekly be even accepted and on the road until quite awhile, I can’t imagine how much waste of infrastructure work and money is being spent now, especially if roads come somehow become smaller with self-atuomative cars. Personally, I simply think the government both federal and state would hate to have to change the road system once again since so much has been established and kept up to date.

    May 19, 2016

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