August 25, 2015

New Game Illustrates Driverless Car Benefits

According to experts, driverless cars could be on our roads sooner than we think (estimates range from five to 20 years). Many of the potential benefits of these cars are obvious, such as eliminating accidents caused by distracted, drunk, or drowsy driving. But these cars also have the potential to affect commutes significantly in perhaps a less obvious way: reduced traffic congestion.

Driverless cars will likely be able to drive closer together and accelerate and decelerate at the same rate, significantly reducing stop-and-go traffic and the accidents it causes. A new game—“Error Prone”—illustrates how driverless cars can travel closely together—and how quickly human error can mess everything up.

As Wired notes, the game is limited in its analogy because it only simulates highway driving, where there are not intersections or cyclists and pedestrians. But, as Wired points out, that’s where autonomous driving will happen first, and it’s the place that we’ll see improved traffic flow.

According to Paul Lewis, director of policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, “A lot of freeway congestion today isn’t necessarily caused by an accident, it’s just caused by too many cars on the road, and you get a lot of bunching,” especially when someone brakes too hard. Driverless cars will slow down only as much as needed and brake only when it’s necessary, thus significantly improving traffic flow. But reduced congestion on the highways has a downside—it could mean more cars on the highway, and therefore more traffic when the cars come off the highways onto city streets.

But, while you wait for driverless cars to make it to our highways, you can try your hand at “Error Prone” here!