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Traffic could double if driverless cars become norm

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LONDON: Motorists could be stuck in double the amount of traffic as what is currently on the road if self-driving cars become commonplace, a British government report warns.

Department for Transport (DfT) traffic projections for England and Wales show delays may rise by up to 85 per cent from 2025 to 2060 in that scenario.

The analysis is based on connected and autonomous vehicles making up half the car fleet by 2047 and with a “fast uptake” of electric vehicles.

This would lead to more traffic by “increasing the mobility of the elderly and those who do not currently hold a driving licence,”according to the report.

But the document, published last month, claims “the ability to work or relax while travelling in a self-driving car” means occupants will be “more amenable to sitting in traffic.”

“There are currently 5.9 million licence holders aged 70 or over in Britain, so we know the demand for mobility is there among those of a senior age, said Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, a British transport policy and research organisation.

“In the foreseeable future, automated vehicles offer the tantalising prospect of independence for the many millions more people who fall into the older age group but for whatever reason - cost, medical impairment - don’t currently drive,” Gooding said.

Gooding said how autonomous technology is deployed will be significant. “If everyone insists on having their own driverless car then traffic volume and parking pressures will rise,” he said.

“However, if we are prepared to access these vehicles on-demand and forego personal ownership then we could have a win-win situation:quieter roads, fewer cars shared by the many, and cheaper transport.”

Recent analysis by traffic information supplier Inrix found that UK drivers lost an average of 80 hours last year due to congestion, a seven-hour increase from 2021.

London was found to be the world’s most congested city in 2022, with drivers in the capital spending an average of 156 hours sitting in traffic.

Writer and broadcaster Christian Wolmar, the author of Driverless Cars: On a Road To Nowhere, insisted that the government should “not be trying to accommodate” the traffic levels self-driving cars will generate.

“We should be doing everything in our power to ensure that doesn’t happen. The idea that you have a technological fix to congestion is nonsensical.”

Wolmar thinks the suggestion there will be a “critical mass” of self-driving cars by 2047 is “fanciful” because “there has been very little real progress in terms of creating cars that could go any wherein any conditions. “It doesn’t look feasible.”

Fully driverless cars are not legally permitted in the UK but autonomous features are being developed by car makers.— dpa

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