Fully Self-Driving Vehicles Have Arrived — Beware The Sprawl & Traffic Impacts

A double shot of autonomous vehicle news this morning should be a wake-up call for those who don’t think fully self-driving vehicles will get here anytime soon:

  1. Waymo announced that it is ditching the backup drivers for its “robot cars” in Chandler, Arizona, and will offer them to the public as an autonomous taxi fleet, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
  2. Also in the Chronicle, Las Vegas is hosting a driverless shuttle for a half-mile, all-day loop in the downtown Fremont East district.  AAA of Northern California, Nevada, and Utah is sponsoring the yearlong pilot program, along with French companies Keolis (a global transportation company that already runs Las Vegas’ public bus system) and Navya, which manufactures the driverless shuttle.

With this news, the urgency of the situation should be clear to policy makers concerned about runaway sprawl and traffic. Having a robot chauffeur will encourage significantly more driving, if we don’t take policy steps to curb usage. I outline some of the options here, such as pricing driving miles as opposed to fuel.

The future is upon us with autonomous vehicles, and this single technology (which otherwise promises tremendous benefits for the public) could end up being an environmental and quality-of-life disaster if we don’t get ahead of it.