Self-Driving Cars Could Lead to More Traffic Not Less

Research from the University of Adelaide shows people's attitudes toward autonomous vehicles could lead to more traffic.
Donna Fuscaldo
Traffic at sunset Adam Calaitzis/iStock

Self-driving cars will have a huge positive impact on the environment but if you think it's going to solve the problem of traffic, think again. 

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have made a bold prediction: they argue driverless cars will lead to more traffic all because of human nature.


People won't want to share their self-driving rides 

The researchers surveyed more than 500 people in the city of Adelaide in Australia to get their feelings about autonomous vehicle ownership and use, vehicle sharing and their attachment to their existing vehicles. Putting those responses through various scenarios with a mix of autonomous and conventional vehicles, the researchers came to a depressing conclusion: a lack of willingness to share rides will be part of the blame for an increase in traffic. Their work was published in the journal Urban Policy and Research.

"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," said study co-author Dr. Raul Barreto, from the University of Adelaide's School of Economics in a press release highlighting the results.  "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."

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Findings should aid policymaking 

The researchers argued the findings from this research have policy implications for how the world moves to self-driving vehicles. After all, they found in Adelaide autonomous vehicles had the potential to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and improve the flow of traffic but it would take years to achieve that.  

"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 Barreto in the press release. 

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