People still wary of driverless cars as study shows they could increase congestion

Just 40 per cent of American drivers have said they are in favour of self-driving cars being available to purchase as a new study warns that they could increase traffic congestion in cities.

A survey conducted by Adobe Analytics of 1,040 American adults showed that the upcoming technology is struggling to find acceptance before it has even been deployed on American roads.

Those who already own an electric or hybrid vehicle, nearly half of whom are millennials, were also found to be twice as likely to feel comfortable getting picked up by a self-driving car.

Of the proportion that were in favour, the ability to eat and drink while driving to their destination was cited as the most popular reason for owning one (49 per cent), followed by the ability to talk on the phone (47 per cent) and do work (36 per cent).

Other popular activities included sleeping (30 per cent) and consuming video content (24 per cent).

While industry experts believe that it will be years before the auto sector reaches a point where vehicles can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention, global carmakers and tech companies have already spent billions of dollars on vehicles that can drive autonomously.

But new research from the University of Adelaide suggests that driverless cars could worsen traffic congestion in the coming decades due to drivers’ attitudes to the emerging technology and a lack of willingness to share their rides.

More than 500 commuters were surveyed, including a mix of those who travel to work by car and public transport, for their views on autonomous vehicle ownership and use, vehicle sharing, and their attachment to conventional vehicles.

“Autonomous or driverless vehicles are likely to have profound effects on cities. Being able to understand their impact will help to shape how our communities respond to the challenges and opportunities ahead,” said study co-author Dr Raul Barreto.

The research team explored potential vehicle flow, with a mix of autonomous and conventional vehicles, and land use change in the Adelaide central business district under different scenarios.

“The key factors affecting the transition to autonomous vehicles are commuter attitudes to car ownership and wanting to drive themselves, rather than have technology do it for them, as well as the price of new technology, and consumer attitudes to car sharing,” Dr Barreto said.

“Our evidence suggests that as riders switch to autonomous vehicles, there will be an adverse impact on public transport. With most commuters not interested in ride sharing, this could increase peak-period vehicle flows, which is likely to increase traffic congestion over the next 30 years or so.

“Under both scenarios we tested, the number of vehicles overall will eventually drop. However, total vehicle trips may increase, and some of the predicted benefits of autonomous vehicles may not eventuate until a lengthy transition period is complete.

The research follows an earlier study which found ride-pooling to be a much better way of reducing congestion as well as concerns that hackers could bring an entire city to a standstill if they were able to take control of just 20 per cent of the vehicles.

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