Self-driving cars will revolutionize our roads and our way of life.

If every car on the road is driven by AI how much would our roads change? Would speed limits sky rocket? Would there be a need for traffic lights at junctions? Would anyone own a car?

We all know self-driving cars are coming. They are expected on UK roads by the end of 2021 and they are already being used in the US. I am not even going to argue whether or not they will take over from user-controlled cars in the future. They will. They will be so much safer there will be no justification for user-controlled cars. What I want to explore is what the world will look like when all cars are self-driving. What will the speed limit be? Will there be traffic lights? Will anyone own cars?

Maybe this is not something you have considered, but a car driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) is much safer than a car driven by you. An AI can make decisions quicker than you can. An AI never lose focus and check its phone. Once all cars on the road are self-driven, there will be no unpredictability from other drivers. This will revolutionize our roads. In 2014 ‘Failed to look properly’ was the most frequently reported contributory reason for road accidents in the UK at 44%. It is clear the majority of accidents will be avoided if all cars on the road are self-driving. So how fast will AI-driven cars be allowed to drive?

How fast will they go?

If self-driving cars are going to be so much safer, then what will the speed limits be. I think the number of roads that are pedestrian free will increase. Why? The speed limits in pedestrian free zones will be much higher than everywhere else due to the safety and predictability of the cars on the roads. With little/no chance of pedestrians walking onto the roads the cars will be able to travel at much faster speeds. We see that already but the speed will be even higher when the cars are self-driven and can react faster and drive predictably. I think speed limits will skyrocket well over 100mph for roads away from residential areas.

No more red lights?

Why do we have traffic lights? Besides letting pedestrians cross the road, we use traffic lights to allow cars to take turns at a busy junction. If we had cars driven by AI then they could be set up in a way that the cars can ‘communicate’ with each other. They can update each other on where they are going and when they will arrive at different junctions. That way the cars could decide in advance of reaching a junction, which cars will go first, etc. They could be even smarter than that. They could all adjust their speeds slightly so they all arrive at the junction at a slightly different time. Perhaps they would not even need to break at all.

There would be no chance of a crash if all the cars know where the other cars are going to be at any given second. Traffic lights could be limited to pedestrian crossings and these could be limited with bridges and tunnels making traveling much faster and more efficient.

No more driveways?

Another interesting prospect is that nobody would own cars in the future. Think about all the money wasted because owned cars are only used a fraction of the time. Do you really need a car to yourself if you could guarantee a fast, reliable and cheap subscription based taxi service? That is a real potential in the future. You could set it up so a car arrives every day to take you to and from work, to take you to the shops, etc. This would be more efficient, cheaper and better for the environment than everyone owning their own car.

This may all seem unreasonable to you. However, the future often does until it arrives. These changes would be so gradual that each small change in itself would probably pass by almost unnoticed. The future is going to be self-driven and I am excited to see what that will mean. Getting to work in half the time and never having to worry about a cars MOT, tax or insurance every again sounds quite appealing to me.

Author

  • Dr Craig Davison has a PhD in Medicine from Queens University Belfast (QUB). Craig has published research investigating novel treatment strategies targeting nucleotide metabolism. Craig is currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow and is passionate about science communication.

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