The benefits of driverless cars – part one

One of our aims here at is to help demystify self-driving cars by looking at the challenges they pose and the benefits they offer.

In a society long-accustomed to human drivers, the potential for change offered by driverless cars can seem overwhelming. But drivers and other road users all stand to benefit from the introduction of self-driving technologies. In this article, we take a look at some of those benefits.

What are the benefits of driverless cars? 

1. Driving will become more relaxing

If you're a motorist, you know that the reality of getting behind the wheel rarely lives up to the promise of motoring freedom.

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Traffic jams, impatient fellow drivers and unexpected delays can all conspire to make the daily commute stressful, time-consuming and unpredictable.

Driverless cars will help to ease the burden and monotony of driving. They'll take over the hassle of driving in stop-start traffic, and they'll monitor road conditions and anticipate how other road users are likely to act.

By handling much of the pain of everyday driving, they'll also free up your time, allowing you to prepare for the day ahead or enjoy your journey with family or friends. Indeed, one designer has even predicted that we'll see mobile coffee shops on the road, with baristas pouring fresh lattes while you work on your laptop – or simply sit back and catch up on the day's news.


2. No more traffic!

This sounds like a bold prediction, but as driverless cars become better and better at communicating with each other, they'll be able to anticipate what's happening ahead of them – and take action to avoid it. Traffic jams could become a thing of the past!

Let's take the problem of phantom traffic jams. If one driver brakes suddenly, the knock-on effect can cause cars a mile or two behind to come to a complete standstill.

But as mathematician Benjamin Seibold points out in this article, this problem is one that's less likely to occur when self-driving cars can share data and understand what's happening miles down the road.

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Additionally, improved data-sharing between cars will improve the way we use roads. One study of rush-hour traffic in Boston found that only 2% of the city's roads had too many cars on them, while the remaining 98% were below capacity. More efficient road use could reduce traffic jams and lead to significant time savings for commuters.

3. The roads will be safer

If there's one issue that's critical to persuading policy-makers and drivers of the real benefits of driverless cars, it's safety. Indeed, one report estimates that accident rates could fall by as much as 90% as self-driving vehicles take over. 

Such predictions set high expectations for driverless cars. But once the introduction of self-driving technologies leads to a noticeable drop in road accident and injury rates (which we think will start to happen pretty quickly), the case for these technologies will become compelling.

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However, there's a significant public perception issue to overcome first. For example, a recent survey found that a third of UK drivers are concerned about the development of self-driving cars.

Many of these motorists say that they don't trust driverless technology and would be worried about computers taking over control of their vehicles. 

Similarly, drivers also worry about self-driving cars having to make ethical choices – for example, between driving into a school bus or hitting a passing pedestrian. 

Ultimately, makers of self-driving cars have a vested interest in demonstrating the safety improvements their vehicles can bring.

For example, Google has already started sharing information about accidents involving its self-driving car fleet which shows that, to date, all of the incidents that have occurred have actually been caused by human error.

As manufacturers continue to develop autonomous technologies and design out human errors, road safety will continue to improve – even if there's a job to do to persuade drivers to give up control.

4. You won't have to hunt for a parking space

City-dwellers know only too well what a challenge it can be to find a convenient parking space, making parallel parking something of an art form. And it's especially difficult if you're in a rush, it's raining or you have heavy shopping in the car.

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But driverless cars promise to change this. Existing technologies already allow some motorists to hand over parking duties to their cars, reducing their risk of bumping into the cars around them (or even driving into nearby walls).

Soon, self-driving cars will simply drop you at your destination and drive themselves off to find convenient parking spaces. When your car comes to pick you up again, you may never even know where it has been.

Eventually, though, parking may not be necessary anyway. Instead, you'll simply summon a ride from one of a fleet of shared driverless cars – similar to the way in which members of existing car-sharing schemes book a shared vehicle.

Once your self-driving car has taken you to your destination, it can then continue on its way to pick up its next passenger, without the need to pull over while it waits.

Additional benefits of driverless cars

We’ve now published the second part of this article, looking at some of the other benefits that self-driving cars will offer. Follow us on twitter or sign up for our newsletter to get all the latest updates about the world of driverless cars.

We'd also love to hear what you think. Are there any other benefits of driverless cars that will make a big difference to your life? Let us know in the comments below.