Main Road Australia has released a fascinating report on the impact the Autonomous Cars will have on our roads, and what we will need to do to be prepared for their introduction.

Autonomous cars have the potential to have huge impacts on our roads in terms of reduced traffic, improved safety and decreased car ownership.

Reduced Traffic

The sensors on-board autonomous cars are able to detect a potential or imminent crash and respond almost instantaneously, much faster than a human would be able to respond. This allows autonomous cars to have a much closer safe following distance. The following distance of a car is a key factor on the throughput of our roads, (throughput (cars/hour) = speed (km/h) * density (cars/km)), and thus a reduced following distance has the potential to result in a much increased throughput in our roads. The increased throughput means the capacity of our roads has been increased and will reduce traffic.

Decreased Car Ownership

Autonomous cars present the exciting possible of a ‘car-on-demand’ service which will have dramatic impacts on the levels of car ownership.

Autonomous cars can be parked in a central location and then called on demand to where they are needed, eliminating the need to own a car in order to have one when needed. The level of car ownership in the cities is huge with many streets full of parked cars, and limited parking space. However, the average person only uses their car approximately 5% of the time. Assuming there were enough cars to cope with peak demand, then this would be a far more effective model for car use, and would result in increased parking spaces and roads de-cluttered from parked cars.

What are we waiting for?

With these benefits and more, you might ask what are we waiting for?

Many new cars produced these days have advanced driverless features (adaptive cruise control, collision alert and avoidance, automatic parking), and some such as the Tesla Model S are already fully equipped to be driven autonomously and just require the firmware to be upgraded.

Autonomous haul trucks and other equipment are a real feature of the modern mining site, and legislation for autonomous cars already exists in California and Nevada.

One of the major obstacles is for regulatory bodies to understand and adapt to these changes with new models for infrastructure, licencing and insurance. It is great to see that Main Roads Australia are taking a proactive approach to this, and I highly recommend reading the report.

The report can be viewed here.