Stoplights - Not with Fully Automated Vehicles

Posted by Chuck Harrell on Apr 16, 2016 11:00:00 AM

trafficIn every city, in every country, anywhere in the world, you'll get stuck in traffic congestion.  In cities with more relaxed traffic systems, cars seem to keep moving.   The problem is that it seems to be getting worse. It's not only traffic control systems which are the root of the problem, nor the number of cards, nor a human's inability to drive, but combined they are the perfect storm.

The solution, according to the University of Texas, is to have fully automated vehicles which don't have to stop at traffic lights.  Onboard computers would adjust the speed of the vehicles around each other to allow them to slot into gaps and make turns.   This video shows how it would work in reality.  Obviously, this is a long way off and not all practical until we're all sitting in the back of autonomous vehicles, but in time, this system is estimated to speed up time spent at junctions by 100 times.

In the meantime, we need a solution that is going to reduce the number of hours commuters spend stuck in traffic. According to TomTom, commuters spent an additional 66 hours stuck in traffic in 2014 compared to 2013.   One possible solution is for servers at traffic lights to send signals to drivers' mobile phones or in-car GPS systems or anti-idling system, as they approach a set of traffic lights so they can adjust their speed to arrive at them at a time when they are green, thereby automating something that we try to do anyway.  This not only reduces congestion waiting time, but could also reduce CO2 emmissions by as much as 6.5% and make the air we breathe healthier.

It could be another 50 years before a majority of cars on the road are autonomous, and even then something will need to be done for scooters, motorbikes, and cyclists, but in the meantime congestion is only likely to increase and something needs to be done to ease it.

Writing for autonomous vehicles, this article on Quartz, reports on an Associated Press (AP) investigation which as uncovered that in the last nine months, four of the forty-eight self-driving cars on California's roads have been involved in accidents.   The AP reports that the national rate for "property damage only crashes" is 0.3 per 100,000 miles whereas Google's accident rate is three per 140,000 miles.  Although this may look worse, it may also be because Google has to report every minor, no-damage, incident that occurs whereas the general public often won't bother.

It's early days for the these systems but for the sake of our sanity and health, we need to find a solution quickly.

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