How can Robots and Humans lessen Congestion?

Automobiles that drive themselves may seem like a sci-fi fantasy, but advances in research and technology are making automated driving vehicles a reality. A recent report examines the automated driving vehicle as a method to reduce traffic congestion.

On the interstate, safe drivers keep a sizable distance between themselves and the next car – in the event of an accident, the driver can stop safely before colliding into the vehicle ahead.  On average, the gap between cars going 60 mph is 144ft.  This large amount of space is required because it takes into account the reaction time of the person operating the vehicle.

Platooning Vehicles on the Interstate
(Photo from Tech-Faq.com)

If an automobile was operated automatically, it wouldn’t need to account for human reaction time and cars on the interstate could travel closely together and still not collide into each other in the event of an unexpected stop.  The practice of many automated vehicles grouping together is known as platooning and the study argues that if automatic cars communicate with each other and platoon during commutes, road capacity would increase and congestion would decrease. Moreover, automated vehicles would better manage the flow of traffic on city streets by reducing stop-and-go traffic.

Unfortunately, robotic cars will not be available for at least another decade.  Until they are available, there is another method to decrease congestion – considerate driving.

Give Respect Get Respect Brochures for Driving, Walking and Biking

Professor Abdulhai from the University of Toronto argues that poor driving behavior, like rubbernecking at accidents, cutting others off, aggressive starts and stops, and general selfish driving all contribute to increased congestion (as well as decreased safety).  It would be difficult to instantly change behavior city-wide, but Abdulahi advocates improving driver education to make the driver aware of their responsibility to everyone on the road. Last year, Philadelphia took the lead to promote considerate transportation through the Give Respect Get Respect campaign.  Give Respect Get Respect is an education initiative for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to be mindful of everyone on the road.  When everyone is looking out for each other on the road, not only is everyone safer, but traffic can flow more smoothly.

Want to find out more?  Check out these:

Highway Capacity Increases from Automated Driving

The Economist: Look, No Hands

The Atlantic Cities: The Key to Reducing Congestion Could Just be Less Selfish Driving

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