Carpool Lane

Scientists Warn Self-Driving Cars Could Worsen Inequality

They suggest fining single-passenger autonomous vehicles to promote carpooling.

2. 23. 19 by Dan Robitzski
Tag Hartman-Simkins
Image by Tag Hartman-Simkins

Share the Road

Advocates of self-driving cars argue that by taking error-prone humans off the streets, there’ll be fewer accidents and less traffic.

But a new study shows that that may not actually be the case, as roads full of autonomous vehicles could worsen road congestion and increase inequality in large cities.

Swarm Robotics

The research, conducted by a nonprofit organization called the Union of Concerned Scientists, focused specifically on the impact autonomous vehicles might have on the Washington D.C. area.

Ultimately, the research suggests that introducing autonomous vehicles to the area would increase traffic by 66 percent, and that the added congestion would likely benefit the wealthy and take opportunities away from low-income communities.


“One way or another, this technology is coming. These cars are already being tested in cities,” Richard Ezike, the lead author of the study, said in an organization-published press release. “If we do not plan and set out thoughtful policies, driverless cars could exacerbate the challenges we see in transportation today — especially for underserved communities.”

Take the Bus

The researchers argue that cities that introduce autonomous vehicles should also invest in public transit, to make sure that those who have longer commutes and would get stuck in the newly-introduced congestion can still find and make it to their jobs.

The report also suggested imposing a fine for any single-passenger autonomous vehicle trips to encourage carpooling and cut back on how many new vehicles will fill the streets.

“We need to think carefully about how we will integrate automated vehicles into our daily lives,” said Ezike. “We need to prioritize people, not vehicles, and craft strong policies to incentivize drivers and ride-sharing companies to use these vehicles in a way that reduces congestion, cuts emissions and promotes equitable access.”


READ MORE: Self-Driving Vehicles Could Worsen Inequity in the DC Area—Unless We Act Now [Union of Concerned Scientists Newsroom]

More on transportation: It’s Not Uber’s Fault That NYC’s Public Transportation Sucks

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