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Study: Just a few driverless cars can reduce traffic jams

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Aug 22, 2017 7:00 AM
uber_driverless_car.jpg

A self-driving car takes off from Uber's newest riverside hub in Pittsburgh, Pa. Company officials say the Rust Belt city is perfect for beta testing, citing diverse topography, frequent weather maladies, construction, bridges and tunnels. (Courtesy -- Megan Harris/WESA)

(Harrisburg) -- The day when highways are dominated by driverless vehicles is at least decades away, but researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia say we could start seeing the benefits of autonomous cars much sooner.

Traffic pile-ups are often caused by human error, like people speeding up and slowing down for no real reason.

Temple math professor Benjamin Seibold says he wants to elminate those phantom traffic jams, and self-driving cars might be the answer.

Seibold says many projections about the benefits of driverless cars only consider scenarios where all the cars are autonomous, but it could take until 2040 to reach a 25 percent share of self-driving vehicles on the roads.

"What our study showed is, no, you don't need to wait that long," Seibold said. "It only takes about five percent of the vehicles being equipped with smart, adaptive cruise control systems and having some connectivity to actually have a substantial impact on the overall traffic flow."

He and a team of researchers ran an experiment with about 20 cars on a circular track and found there only needs to be one driverless car in the circuit to avoid jams. 

Seibold says the autonomous vehicles won't help congestion--that depends on the volume of cars.

However, improved traffic flow in the experiment did cut fuel consumption by 40 percent.

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