Self-Driving Teslas (Other Cars) To Put An End To Traffic?


Tesla Model S Goes Cross Country On Autopilot - Image Credit: Alex Roy

Self-Driving Tesla

Self-driving cars will potentially change our lives for the better in many ways. Obviously, providing transportation for the handicapped or the elderly, tops the list. Giving us the ability to multitask during our commute is also a huge perk. And of course, reducing accidents. The other positive is reducing traffic congestion.

New hardware now standard on new Tesla vehicles

New hardware now standard on new Tesla vehicles

Cars with emergency automatic braking can stop nearly immediately if needed. This is much unlike the few seconds or more that it takes a human to react. So, the self-driving cars can travel at much closer distances, freeing up more roadway. Also, less unecessary stop and go, will keep traffic moving.

Hyphothetically, you could have a whole line of cars, mere inches apart, traveling at speeds in excess of 90 mph. The vehicles would almost be traveling as a train-like unit. Meanwhile, drag is reduced because the cars, aside from the front runner, would be traveling in the vacuum created by the leading car. Higher speeds wouldn’t cause efficiency problems quite so much in this situation. This is increadingly important when assuming that we are talking about electric cars, and range issues.

Teslarati compared it to geese:

Ever wonder why geese travel in that cool V-formation? Similar reason. They avoid the turbulence from the goose ahead and conserve energy. Being cooperative sorts they trade places with the leader, who drops back and lets the next goose in line take over the toughest place, which is the lead. That way all the geese get to where they’re going quicker and with less fatigue. In our terms, with less battery energy expended.

So, there would have to be some type of system so that leaders could take turns, because no one would ever want to be up front. Or maybe leaders just periodically take it upon themselves to drop back and the following driver understands that it is his/her time to lead. It would eventually become a common courtesy of future drivers. One can only hope …

Source: Teslarati

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39 Comments on "Self-Driving Teslas (Other Cars) To Put An End To Traffic?"

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Packet the cars behind tractor trailers.

I tend to think that autonomous cars will lead to more traffic not less.

We already have way too many cars with a single occupant, and now we’re heading towards cars with zero occupants.

+1 from an Autopilot owner’s perspective, I think only when we muse about “swarming” data, when 90+% of on-road cars are mandated to move as clusters, will we see any benefit. I hope we never see this: -More cars, for handicapped or anyone else, mean more traffic -Driverless cars that return to base (because 40 miles of fuel can be a whole lot cheaper than parking), mean more traffic -Hunting for parking, more traffic Tesla already allows user-selected follow distances. At inches (which are impossible), I doubt the sensors would AEB in time. At car lengths, there will always be those crossing into your lane, followed by the same slowing down which causes those “human” traffic jams. Silicon Valley can only adjust for this stuff in the margins, and the rest is dreaming. At a race track, you follow at 70-90mph within a car length, because the driver ahead knows not to brake at the wrong time. Same for a paceline, on drafting bicycles. This doesn’t mean a massive accident can be prevented because a deer runs out, etc, etc. The first several cars operating within inches pile up, even if they simultaneously brake. Then, maybe the fourth is driven… Read more »

The car makers and the techies are already having stories about why self driving cars will make public transit useless. When I hear these stories I think 1940’s Great Streetcar Robbery.

The car in front also has increased milage. For truck that drive behind each other it’s like 3-5% for the one in front and 5-10% for the one behind.

Articles like these worry me, for a few reasons. but mainly this …

“Giving us the ability to multitask during our commute is also a huge perk.”

Please elaborate, what exactly you have in mind (not that I don’t know) … I just want to hear it again.

Secondly, it’s a pure lunacy to think that there will be less traffic on the road, or more fluent one somehow, because of self-driving cars, all doing speed limit and with plenty of space between cars … yeah, sure.

Now, if you were to say, that smart and comfortable buses filling the public transportation with right of way lanes will rule, I could agree with that … but that will never happen, because it goes against the grain of spending money on public transportation rather than electric personal cars.

He means that u could, for example, play star wars commander on your smart phone while driving to work.

I just realized who wrote (source) that article … some people just don’t stop spreading non-sense, eh?

But I will remember now, when on hwy, to drive just like geese fly. I’ll report back how I did.

Cars aren’t shaped like geese, with a narrow head, a long neck, and a tapered body. So you will likely get very poor results trying to mimic geese using an essentially square box following other square boxes.

Maybe if you had this car:

mxs said:

“I just realized who wrote (source) that article … some people just don’t stop spreading non-sense, eh?”

Okay, I’ll bite. To paraphrase the title of a rather obscure 1971 movie: Who is Allan Honeyman and why are you saying those terrible things about him?

There will still be traffic. When you build it (or free it up), they will come.

But self driving cars will allow you to do other things while the car is driving, like taking a nap, brushing your teeth, commenting on InsideEvs, maybe even all of them at the same time.

Curious why you think that. There have been many studies to the effect that traffic “stop and go” waves can be removed by driver behavior. Lines of cars cooperating with each other can implement that.

“There would not be traffic if you would just go” — Dudley Moore in “crazy people”.

When you put particles through a narrow opening, there will be traffic. You can see this with balloons (gas molecules), rice, water, whatever.

I have a way to eliminate traffic and income tax, but no one is brave enough to implement it. Minimum speed law, as in you better be moving at 35 MPH or faster or you get a ticket. That includes traffic lights and stop signs and parking on side of the road (0 MPH gets double ticket!). Traffic problem solved and no more income tax! 🙂

I heard the following told as a true story some decades ago, altho I don’t actually know if it’s true or not:

An American was driving in France, when he came upon a traffic accident on the highway, where the Gendarmes (French police) had blocked off one lane of travel where the accident had occurred. He slowed down to rubberneck as he passed, as Americans are wont to do. A Gendarme took off after him and pulled him over. The Gendarme harangued him: “Don’t you understand that when the traffic is restricted to half the lanes, it must travel twice as fast to maintain flow?”

Would that every human driver understood that very important principle! But every autonomous driver can understand that principle, and react accordingly… if they’re programmed for it.

I’d like to see that in Germany, where u can drive 200mph on the Autobahn.

Yep, someday it will be illegal to drive your own car.

Glad I won’t live to see it.

That is probably a long ways away, if ever.

More realistically, there will probably be “Self-drive Only” lanes of traffic in congested areas, like we currently have HOV lanes. Also sections of “Self-drive Only Express Lanes” that have fewer exits than the other interstates.

In the end, it is more likely that if you want to drive yourself, you will have to use secondary roads at slower speeds, while express traffic fly by you at 90 mph using the advantages of self-driving. You will of course be required to have mandatory collision avoidance software, but that is an entirely different software program that isn’t the same at all as true self-driving.

Self driving car lanes would be realistic even now and would be a good idea for now. But I wouldn’t want them to take over the whole highway were they ban you off the interstate.

Why won’t you live to see it? Singularity is coming. Just stick around until then.

As several have already observed, it’s rather brain-dead to suggest autonomous cars will mean fewer cars on the road. In fact, as they correctly point out, it will mean more. However, self-driving cars will be designed to cooperate with each other to reduce traffic congestion, and in that respect it will be a paradigm shift away from the sorts of competing, self-defeating behaviors that human drivers engage in; competing with each other when traffic is heavy, rather than cooperating to produce smooth traffic flow. But altho this will reduce congestion, eventually sharply reduce it, I hope; it will never eliminate it altogether. There will always be times when there will be too many cars trying to get onto too few roads all at once. As an extreme example: Trying to leave the parking lot after “the big game”. Driving at 90 MPH inches apart? I’m not convinced. Even self-driving cars need at least a tenth of a second or two to react. Computer programs can react instantaneously, but brakes and steering don’t. If the car or truck ahead of you blows a tire, or has a major mechanical malfunction, then a few inches of space won’t be sufficient to prevent… Read more »

Having looked at this many months ago (blog post still pending), it’s actually better to be closer to the car in front of you. That’s because the debris from the car in front won’t have enough time to slow down and gain energy before hitting you. Ideally, touching the bumper of the car in front would be best, but we all know speculawyer would be all over it.

Another factor is that the rate of brake mechanical squeeze is roughly the same on most cars. Sure, emergency stop could result in “bumper bump” on some weaker brake vs stronger ones, but that is far less catastrophic when the distance separation is small. You can do the math, but even millimeter (how about pico-meter, speculawyer?) would be fine and preferable using today’s technology.

I don’t believe story. Once I was following a truck and the whole exhaust system fell off the bottom of the pick up truck in front of me and went bouncing towards my car Which I clearly was able to get out of it’s way by having enough space in back of it.

If your objective is to get out of the way, sure, follow much further behind (many car lengths) as well as leaving room on the sides to get out of the way.

But we’re talking about closing the gap, and it’s better to follow close within millimeters than few feet. That debris you avoided would strike the car even if you’re following few feet behind with even more force than if you were following few millimeters behind.

SparkEV said: “If your objective is to get out of the way, sure, follow much further behind (many car lengths) as well as leaving room on the sides to get out of the way.” It’s a good idea to give a wide berth between your car and many types of large trucks. Dump trucks hauling gravel often have bits constantly blowing off the top, or rattling out of an empty bed. Back when I was still driving, I tried to always get in another lane, so I wasn’t behind that type of truck, or else give it several seconds of following room. I once passed a horrible accident on the highway, where a bobcat chained to a flatbed trailer had come loose and fallen off. I saw the remains of the badly wrecked and completely burnt-out pickup as I passed. Ever since, I have made a point to never, ever closely follow a truck with something chained on its bed. (I was also late to work once because a flatbed hauling drainage pipes, again secured by chains, had lost its load, and the huge pipes blocked every lane of the interstate; during morning rush hour, cars were having to drive… Read more »

Hmmm, depends on just what happens. You’re correct so say that if a car or truck ahead of you kicks up a stone or piece of gravel that bounces along the road, you’re better off being close behind it, as it won’t hit your windshield at high velocity. But another fairly common hazard is disintegrating tires on an 18-wheeler. If that happens, I definitely don’t want to be close behind it!

Tires and exhaust pipes disintegrate even with passenger cars. If the goal is to avoid all debris, better to leave few car lengths with space on both sides to move. But even then, the debris could cover multiple lanes, and it won’t be 100% avoidance.

At some point, you have to weigh the risks. It could be that one big rig length with similar gap on both sides is better for debris avoidance, but that will have less traffic density and worse aerodynamic benefit than packed few millimeters behind.

Mechanical brakes have slow reaction time, but if u think at EVs, electric motors need miliseconds to reverse the torque, thus braking the car.

The amount of traffic will always reflect the pain point between drivers demanding road improvements, and budget constraints.

That means that if self-driving cars reduce traffic congestion by 10%, then road improvements that reduce congestion will be delayed until more cars using the same roads cause congestion to return to where it was before self-driving cars.

Any “fix” for congestion would be temporary until population growth caught up. It is a self-correcting system, because no politician would spend money to improve roads that are already seen to be “fixed” by using self-driving cars. So the roads would remain unimproved until after congestion quickly returns.

I have seen places in the US Road system were a bad intersection or narrow road was widened and it fixed the traffic permanently.

A example of this was US Route 35 in West Vriginia were it was a narrow winding two lane road.

They fixed US Route 35 with a four lane wide expressway bypass that bypassed all the bad two lane sections. Now the two lane road doesn’t bear the load of a expressway on it.

For once, Nix, I fundamentally disagree with you.

In rush hour traffic on multi-lane roads, the reason we have “traffic jams” is because human drivers compete to get in whichever lane they perceive as moving incrementally faster. This congestion, which can be modeled as turbulence in a fluid, is a result of all the “particles” in the stream moving independently, without cooperation.

Contrariwise, autonomous cars will cooperate to ensure smooth traffic flow. When traffic is very heavy it may well slow, but unlike the present case with human drivers, there will almost never be cases where it stops completely, or cases where where you have to inch along for many minutes.

If we decide to quit building more roads, then over time that would cause traffic to slow, especially during rush hour. But we’d almost never see completely stalled lines of traffic, as is now an everyday occurrence in many places.

Nix is absolutely correct. It is a fallacy to think that all traffic or even most traffic is due to human driving and crashes. Imagine if there are so many cars on the road that every car is touching the car in front of it AND more cars are trying to merge. You will see a slow down, both in main road and for those trying to merge. That’s what happens in most traffic cases in cities, and no amount of cooperation among self driving cars will fix that.

Only way to fix the problem is to disincentivize moving slowly; tongue in cheek is to ticket everyone who move slowly (SparkEV’s minimum speed law), but it would be very effective. Hanging carrots didn’t work (ie, HOV lanes), time to bring out the sticks!

The inch-apart self driven train does not improve traffic flow. It actually makes traffic worse because the congestion points are not the freeway straights, they are actually located are the intersections : the lane changes, the merges, the stops at the lights.

All the train would achieve is to rush more cars to the congestion points and create a bigger traffic jam. Plus it would make human driving much harder.

The headway reductions allowed by high performance self driven cars only provide a small increase in capacity.

The best way to improve traffic flow is to increase the vehicle occupancy.
The current model of car ownership does not encourage this behaviour.
However, it would be possible by operating the self driving cars like a carpool, rather than like a taxi.
The critical point would be who controls the app and the database to link passenger requests and the available vehicles.

Ideally, if enough people the same system (perhaps if cities implement laws that mandate sharing the databases), you could fill up bigger cars or perhaps even mini-buses and reach the optimal balance between road capacity and trip time.

Congratulations! You’re one of the very few that thinks about traffic flow as it ought to be considered; as if it’s a flow of fluid in a pipe, with the fluid consisting of particles which happen to be vehicles.

You’re bang on the mark. Cars should be bunching up to mere inches apart only where there is a constriction in the flow, not in places where the flow is free and easy. As you correctly point out, trying to make traffic flow literally bumper-to-bumper from one end of the highway to the other, is not a workable solution.

However, you missed one thing: With autonomous driving, there’s no need for traffic signals. No stop signs, no stop lights. Vehicles will communicate with each other and fit themselves into a queue, taking turns to pass thru the intersection. Only the poor, ill-equipped human drivers will still need to obey such things as stop lights, stop signs, and yield signs.

If we want to get rid of traffic lights, we will need all the cars to be automatic and communicating. I wonder what a feeling it would give to pass a former traffic light right between two other cars passing in perpendicular direction at 60 mph. The computing speed and communication security would have to be super high. Even so, it would be kind of freaking.

Ok I draw the line here about will self driving cars end traffic. It sounds like the same scam the car companies and techies are trying to sell us that got the streetcars ripped up in the 1940’s. The first reason why self driving cars are not going to fix traffic. Is if everyone is talking about stories about cars driving on the roads to pick up people without anyone driving. Another story was someone posted a story about sending their Tesla across the county to pick up a package and then drive back to their house with it to avoid paying ship. Naturally if 10% or 30% of the cars on the roads don’t have any drivers in them. Well that is going to pile on top of the cars that do have drivers. Next fact why self driving cars won’t fix traffic. If I own my own car and it drives itself I’m not going to let it drive around by itself to pick up complete strangers in it. And even now I don’t turn my personal car into a taxi service. So pretty much now and in the future my car is going to have me and… Read more »

Ocean Railroader said:

“Roads and stoplights along with intersections can only carry so many cars pure how. It doesn’t mater if the cars have humans or Robby the Robot driving them. Once a road or intersection and a parking area reaches capacity traffic happens.”

Your assertion here appears to have the unstated premise that the driving behavior of autonomous cars will closely mimic that of human drivers; that autonomous cars will compete and exhibit different driving behaviors (aggressive, conservative, moderate), just as human drivers do.

You might want to reconsider those premises. You might want to consider the possibility that autonomous vehicles will be programmed to cooperate to ensure smooth and uninterrupted traffic flow, rather than compete and cause turbulent flow, with fits and starts… as human drivers do.

In the scheme of things I don’t think there is very many things self driving cars can do different then humans. The self driving cars can be ruled over by a car based hive mind. But that hive mind is limited into what it can do. A example is we have section of road in our city called Interstate 95 and Interstate 295. Interstate 95 there will be thousands of cars driving bumper to bumper at high speeds 70 mils on hour. You have cars getting off and on and the drivers have no trouble doing this. While this is going on you basically have a solid river of metal flowing down the interstate. Now when the river of metal which is on a ten lane section of interstate it drops down to six lanes in only a mile. This six lane section of interstate is were you go to bumper to bumper. Due to huge volumes of cars merging in from two lane wide exits on to a three lane wide road. You also have the car flow of five lanes which were bursting at on a five lane one way road trying to flow though a three lane… Read more »

They want you to believe,all cars will be in top mechanical condition. This is a pipe dream. At 90 mph,the law of physics still stands. The forward force will have to be diverted. You can not stop,3500 pounds in a second. They claim, 94% of all accidents wont happen and it may be true. But,the accidents that do happen,will be more catastrophic. The one thing they fail to mention, the initial cost. They are predicting,$3500 per car and $15 to $30 thousand per semi truck. Those costs will be absorbed by the public. Now,if you’re saving up to buy basic food,how will you afford an autonomous car? I thought,by 2000,all cars were going to be electronic and there would be no dependency on oil? Oops,that didn’t happen.

Another thing not talked about is someone who has a self driving car is going to have to pay $100 to $500 dollars a year to pay for the service to have the software updated.

So many layers here, first populations are ever increasing so the longer it take the more people there will be in need of a car…

Just comes down the psychology of car ownership…I believe to many, if you could uber/lyft everywhere AFFORDABLY we’d gladly give up our cars, but we’re not there yet…While the uber/lyft offer a carpool option it’s not as attractive as my own private ride…Will this future of self driving vehicles be my own private car? Or will it be something more along of the lines of the Tesla bus, where the majority of self-driving cars aren’t a sexy Model S/X but rather resemble a 15 passenger van? Something like that would cut down on traffic…