10 Advantages of Autonomous Vehicles
February 20, 2018

Pete Goldin

As the world continues to move deliberately toward a transportation system driven by autonomous vehicles, let's take a look at some of the advantages driverless cars can bring to society:

1. Reduced Accidents

According to the USDOT website: "With 94 percent of fatal vehicle crashes attributable to human error, the potential of autonomous vehicle technologies to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads urges us to action."

Self-driving cars are projected to reduce traffic deaths by 90 percent, saving 30,000 lives a year

"Self-driving cars have the potential in the future to reduce deaths and injuries from car crashes, particularly those that result from driver distraction," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).

The House Energy and Commerce Committee website clarifies: "Self-driving cars are projected to reduce traffic deaths by 90%, saving 30,000 lives a year."

2. Reduced Traffic Congestion

Americans currently spend more than 6.9 billion hours a year sitting in traffic, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“Our experiments show that with as few as 5 percent of vehicles being automated and carefully controlled, we can eliminate stop-and-go waves caused by human driving behavior,” said Daniel B. Work, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a lead researcher in the traffic congestion study.

Under normal circumstances, human drivers naturally create stop-and-go traffic, even in the absence of bottlenecks, lane changes, merges or other disruptions. This phenomenon is called the "phantom traffic jam." U of Illinois researchers found that by controlling the pace of the autonomous car in the study, they were able to smooth out the traffic flow for all the cars.

"Even decreasing the number of accidents could reduce congestion, because up to 25% of congestion is caused by traffic incidents," according to Study of the Potential Energy Consumption Impacts of Connected and Automated Vehicles, a report by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

3. Reduced CO2 Emissions

The reduction in congestion will most likely result in a reduction of CO2 emissions as well.

In addition, the Future of Driving report from Ohio University states: "Since software will drive the car, the modern vehicle can now be programmed to reduce emissions to the maximum extent possible. The transition to the new-age cars is expected to contribute to a 60% fall in emissions."

4. Increased Lane Capacity

Research from the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) shows potential for autonomous vehicles could increase highway capacity by 100 percent and increase expressway travel speeds by more than 20 percent.

Eric Sundquist, Managing Director of SSTI adds, "An even more aggressive estimate, taking into account the possibility of AVs platooning in a 'hypothetical continuous train,' could raise capacity even further, to an astronomical (by today’s standards) 8,000 vehicles per hour at 60 mph, or 10,000 vehicles per hour at 80 mph."

Platooning of AVs could increase lane capacity by up to 500 percent

Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policy Makers, a report from Rand Corporation, states: "While AVs might lead to an increase in overall vehicle travel, they could also support higher vehicle throughput rates on existing roads. To begin with, the ability to constantly monitor surrounding traffic and respond with finely tuned braking and acceleration adjustments should enable AVs to travel safely at higher speeds and with reduced headway (space) between each vehicle. Research indicates that the platooning of AVs could increase lane capacity (vehicles per lane per hour) by up to 500 percent."

5. Lower Fuel Consumption

"AV technology can improve fuel economy, improving it by 4–10 percent by accelerating and decelerating more smoothly than a human driver. Further improvements could be had from reducing distance between vehicles and increasing roadway capacity. A platoon of closely spaced AVs that stops or slows down less often resembles a train, enabling lower peak speeds (improving fuel economy) but higher effective speeds (improving travel time). Over time, as the frequency of crashes is reduced, cars and trucks could be made much lighter. This would increase fuel economy even more," states Rand Corporation's Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policy Makers.

U of Illinois researchers demonstrated experimentally in 2017 that even a small percentage of autonomous vehicles on the road can reduce the total fuel consumption by up to 40 percent.

6. Last Mile Services

"Autonomous vehicles are well-positioned to provide first/last-mile services to connect commuters to public transportation. Larger cities have the problem of providing adequate public transportation. Many lack the appropriate infrastructure to support the needs of their residents, a void that could partially be filled by self-driving cars. AVs could potentially supplement public transport, solving the first-mile-last-mile problem," according to a report from KPMG:

7. Transportation Accessibility

The USDOT website states: "Many seniors and people with disabilities cannot currently drive, even with vehicle modifications that help others drive safely. Autonomous vehicles could provide many more Americans access to the open road and to independence."

The US House Energy and Commerce Committee website adds: "With self-driving cars, tasks like commuting to work, going to the doctor, and visiting family across town could become easier for seniors and those with disabilities."

“The aging of the population converging with autonomous vehicles might close the coming mobility gap for an aging society,” said Joseph Coughlin, the director of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology AgeLab in Cambridge, quoted in an article in the New York Times.

8. Reduced Travel Time and Transportation Costs

AVs may cut travel time by up to 40 percent, recover up to 80 billion hours lost to commuting and congestion, and reduce fuel consumption by up to 40 percent

"AVs may cut travel time by up to 40 percent, recover up to 80 billion hours lost to commuting and congestion, and reduce fuel consumption by up to 40 percent. These cost/time-saving benefits are expected to be worth about US$1.3 trillion in the country. Other potential cost-saving domains include reduced manpower — drivers and law enforcers," according to a report from KPMG.

9. More Effective and Affordable Taxis

The Future of Driving report from Ohio University states that with autonomous taxis, "The waiting time for a cab will come down from the average five minutes today to just 36 seconds. The cost of a ride too will come down to just $0.5 per mile in a driverless car."

10. More Efficient Parking

"AVs remove commuters' demands for street and lot parking. Some cities devote a third of their land to parking and AVs could free up significant real estate for other uses, from parks to residences to office space. For personal AVs, commuters may be dropped at a location and the vehicle would park itself away from the destination, where space is available. Cutting back on the land used for parking might even reduce real estate costs, " according to a report from KPMG

The Future of Driving report from Ohio University says a significant "impact of driverless cars is that such cars can be parked in 15% less space. Currently, cars need to be parked with enough space between them for the driver to exit after parking and enter when removing the car from the parking space. With self-driving cars, vehicles can be stacked right next to each other. Urban areas facing acute space shortage will gain from the transition to driverless cars."