future view

How are self-driving cars going to change our traffic and transport?

17 July 2018 • 3 min reading time

Automated driving offers convenience and contributes to a better environment. But once we have large numbers of automated vehicles driving around on our roads, how will they react to each other and how will that affect road capacity? By providing insight into the effects of connected, cooperative and automated driving, TNO helps governments and road authorities to formulate policy and make infrastructure adjustments if necessary.

“Something is going to change in the way we move from A to B,” says Isabel Wilmink, researcher at TNO. “Take all the stories in the news about sharing and Mobility as a Service concepts. If these developments continue, then at some point few people will own their own cars. We may see the emergence of automated, electric taxis which will be very cheap because there is no longer any need for a driver and the running costs of electric vehicles are low.”

Cycling – pleasant and healthy

If the automated electric taxi does indeed become very popular, then the hustle and bustle on the road will increase. “But maybe a lot of people will keep cycling because it’s pleasant and healthy. And if the users of self-driving taxis mainly come from regular public transport, what effect will that have on traffic,” Wilmink wonders. “Will it get much busier on the road? What will traffic flows look like with both automated and manual vehicles? Do we already benefit from this in terms of road safety and emissions?”

“What will traffic flows look like with both automated and manual vehicles?”

While it is certain that automated driving will bring about major changes in the long term, many questions arise. “In order to prepare governments and road authorities for the future, we provide insight into every aspect of automated driving - from the road-user’s choice to purchase a self-driving car or not to, ultimately, modification by the road authority of lane width, junctions and curves. We are doing as much of the research as possible on the road as well as using traffic simulation models and driving simulators.”

Space to stop for a moment

An example of insights with which TNO assists government authorities is in terms of infrastructure planning. “This concerns the design and the required capacity of both the physical and the digital infrastructure. Another example is the granting of concessions in the public transport sector. How can government authorities deal with Mobility as a Service providers that want to use automated vehicles? And also think of spatial planning. If self-driving taxis want to drop us off at our destination, is there any space there to stop for a moment?”

“If self-driving taxis want to drop us off at our destination, is there any space there to stop for a moment?”

Traffic management is also the subject of research. Wilmink: “Do we have to take extra traffic into account? Do people who are driven mind taking a slightly longer route to minimise traffic jams - they can do something else while they are en-route, can’t they? Finally, there are legislation and regulations on, for example, the certification of vehicles for roadworthiness, stipulations concerning driving times and rest periods, and traffic rules that may have to be adapted, such as for motorway merging.”

Impact study in North Holland

One project that Wilmink recently completed was the impact study for the province of North Holland and the Transport Authority Amsterdam. "Together with Arcadis, we have explored the consequences of the arrival of self-driving vehicles. To this end, we outlined a number of fairly extreme scenarios for the future, from partially automated to fully automated. In addition, we examined the extent to which people are prepared to share a vehicle, also during the journey.”

“We have built a model that allows us to quickly and broadly calculate the effect of self-driving vehicles on mobility”

“We then built a model that allows us to quickly and broadly calculate the effect of self-driving vehicles on mobility,” continues Wilmink. “How will people travel, will their mileage increase or decrease, how much delay will this cause, and so on? Finally, we examined the interventions that the province and the transport region can undertake to reinforce the desired effects and to prevent the undesirable effects. The results will help the province and transport region to identify developments and prepare for the future.”

Intensive cooperation

The self-driving car has potential – this much is certain. But there is still some way to go. Putting this type of vehicle on the road demands close cooperation between TNO, the industry, and government. We are eager to enter that cooperation. Do you have ideas of your own, or would you like to know more? We look forward to hearing from you.

Read more

More information can be found on the page 'TNO and the self-driving car'. TNO outlines the potential of the self-driving car. Different facets are discussed: technology development and validation, effects on traffic flow, ICT and the human factor. You will also find relevant links to pages on TNO.nl.


Or would you like to know more about one of the four discussed preconditions for the transition to automated driving? Then we would like to get in touch with you.

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