Driverless cars could mean fewer cars on the road

February 9, 2015, 9:48 PM UTC
Courtesy of Google

There’s no use denying it — autonomous cars are coming. Experts says that partially autonomous cars will be on the road by 2017, and that within a decade, fully autonomous vehicles will be zooming on highways and through our neighborhoods.

When this day comes, though, what will become of the two car garage? It may not be needed anymore, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The study essentially posits this: if autonomous cars become the norm, they could be shared by two people in the same household. Say Jack and Diane are married and live in the center of a medium-sized city, one where there is no major public transportation to speak of. Their self-driving car could take Jack to his job in the suburbs, then return to the apartment, where Diane would get in and be shuttled to her job in another part of town. The two no longer need their own vehicles to get to work, and can share the one autonomous car without having to deal with car pooling or going out of their way.

“This reduction in ownership and an accompanying shift to vehicle sharing within each household, in the most extreme hypothetical scenario, could reduce average ownership rates by 43% (from 2.1 to 1.2 vehicles per household,)” the report says.

As noted, though, this is just the most extreme possibility. Brandon Schoettle, the lead writer of the study, said the actual reduction in car ownership could be much less than that, depending on a few factors. For instance, states may pass laws that prohibit such an arrangement by requiring autonomous cars to only operating with a human inside.

And even though driverless cars are starting to creep into the mainstream, don’t expect this change to happen overnight. Schoettle said turning over the existing fleet of cars would take time, so any reduction in the number of cars on the road could take “decades.”