The fully autonomous cars that big-name tech companies like Tesla and Waymo are striving to make a reality have been the subject of some pretty bold claims. Even the presence of a few self-driving cars on the road, some have alleged, could drastically reduce the prevalence of traffic jams. But new analysis published Thursday in the journal Transport Policy suggests not only that the traffic jam-alleviating prowess of self-driving cars has been over-sold, the presence of these cars on the road might actually wind up making traffic worse. Like, a lot worse.
The problem? Existing models underestimated the potential for robot-fueled gridlock brought about by all those autonomous vehicles aimlessly cruising through cities to avoid parking fees. Instead of posting up in a parking garage while you’re shopping, AVs will be incentivized to slowly circle around the block to dodge payments.