Stop-and-go traffic is a reality for most commuters in urban areas, and over 40 percent of America’s major roads are congested. What if we could get more use out of the existing highway capacity we have with driverless vehicles? There is a lot of talk about the convenience for drivers with this new technology, but there are equally exciting ramifications for the roadways. A typical U.S. highway has a maximum occupancy of 2,200 vehicles per hour, which equates to about 5 percent of the total highway surface. With autonomous and connected vehicles, the real estate of the road could potentially be reimagined as you reduce the human factor for error. Autonomous vehicles are expected to reduce non-impaired incidents by as much as 80 percent. By reducing the burden on the driver, lane widths and shoulder requirements could potentially be minimized, allowing transportation agencies to optimize existing roadway capacity.
There are already two “test beds” for this technology that have been launched in the United States. One testing facility in Contra Costa County, California called the “GoMentum Station” is being housed at a former naval weapons station and will offer auto manufacturers a safe environment to test their next-generation vehicles. And in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute is underway with a project to outfit 9,000 vehicles in the city with technology that will enable vehicles to communicate with one another and alert drivers to potential dangers. They are also equipping traffic signals and intersections, and completing a five-mile test track as part of the project.