Driverless Cars Could Cause Traffic Chaos Says Top Professor

Tue 5th Feb 2019

Driverless car technology may be in the not too distant future, but one traffic expert is claiming that the introduction of the controversial vehicles could leave the road network gridlocked.

Adam Millard-Bell, a professor of environmental studies at the University of California, has studies the impact of driverless cars on their locale using micro-simulations to show that even in the ‘best-case scenario’, just 2,000 driverless cars in a city the size of San Francisco will slow traffic to less than two miles per hour.

Millard-Bell claims that parking prices currently prohibit car drivers from using their cars to commute to work, but with the advent of driverless, the cars could cruise around city centres without having to find a parking spot. The US professor is worried this could bring on a ‘robot-fuelled gridlock’.

“Parking prices are what get people out of their cars and on to public transit,” said the professor. “But autonomous vehicles have no need to park at all. They can get around paying for parking by cruising. They will have every incentive to create havoc.

“It just takes a minority to gum things up. Drivers would go as slowly as possibly so they wouldn't have to drive around again.”

Millard-Bell claims it will be five to twenty years before we see a real influx of driverless cars on the road network, though the UK chancellor Philip Hammond has made a bold prediction that they would be on British roads by 2021. The United Kingdom currently has no provision for the parking of driverless cars, and it is thought that one way to combat the problem could be the congestion charges that drivers in London are currently subjected to, though Professor Millard-Bell is not convinced that that is a solution which would work globally.

He said: “Congestion pricing is difficult to implement. The public never wants to pay for something they have historically gotten for free.

“But no one owns an autonomous vehicle now, so there is no constituency organised to oppose charging for the use of public streets.

“This is the time to establish the principle and use it to avoid the nightmarish scenario of total gridlock.”