16 Jan 2019

How will driverless cars affect society? In a recent interview with Architecture & Design, Urbis Transport Advisory Director Graham McCabe explains. 

According to Graham McCabe, transport will become a key influencer on the spatial structure, density and land use characteristics of cities, as well as having a marked effect on human safety and wellbeing.

“Driverless cars are expected to lead to a decrease in the number of people killed or hospitalised from road accidents, but the wellbeing of our communities may suffer from an increased reliance on passive transport if good planning and design doesn’t emphasise walking and bicycling.” 

Moreover he says, “Many governments initially caught the technology bug, and like the Mobility as a Service concept, bought the line that self-driving cars will solve congestion and crashes.”

“More lately, they have come around to the understanding that while these cars will make driving safer by not relying on fallible and distracted humans, they could also increase congestion.”

Driverless cars are expected to lead to a decrease in the number of people killed or hospitalised from road accidents.

Graham McCabe View Profile

“Every time in history there has been a step change in how easily we can move (from walking to horses to boats, carriages, trains, bicycles and finally cars) the amount and distance people travel has a disproportional increase in demand for travel,” says McCabe.

“Once people no longer have to drive themselves and can work, be entertained, shop etc, the impact of the amount of time spent commuting will go down and they will no longer need to live as close to work, school and services as they can afford, so people may leave the middle ring suburbs of our cities and move to outer areas.”

“Governments are only just starting to understand these impacts and the increased congestion that comes from have empty cars driving themselves to storage or to pick up other people.”

“Studies in the USA and Queensland suggest that congestion will significantly increase from this, and people travelling further,” he says.

“Governments, I think are also underestimating the environmental impact of this technology. While it is being sold as clean and green (due to battery technology), the insurance and car industries will be increasing modernisation of the car fleet.”

When it comes to the immediate impact is on road safety and the injury toll that affects society, McCabe says that, “with the reduction in road trauma, there will be changes to insurance, requirements for policing of speed, drink, drug and distracted driving, paramedics, ambulances and hospitals will be able to focus more other areas of health care, saving the community money and improving society.”

“We have had many advances in road safety that have reduced crashes including mandatory seat belt wearing, drink driving laws, airbags and better crash protection that have saved lives and reduced injuries.”

Any technology that reduces injuries and deaths from road crashes should be welcomed.

Graham McCabe View Profile

“But recently this reduction has plateaued, and many suspect it is due to distracted driving from mobile phones. Any technology that reduces injuries and deaths from road crashes should be welcomed – especially autonomous emergency braking that could safe a pedestrians life if they step onto the road with a distracted driver coming towards them.”

These are just some of the challenges for a city like Sydney in terms of the advent of driverless cars, and the key stakeholders who are required to incentivise active transport and wellbeing.

This article was first published in Architecture & Design.