Autonomous Cars — a Cheap Economic Boost?

Who needs to build new roads or create tolled express lanes when the driverless car revolution is almost upon us? Clifford Winston and Quentin Karpilow suggest that autonomous cars will reduce traffic congestion by boosting highway throughput, creating a huge boost to economic productivity and output.

In a new paper published by the Mercatus Center, “A New Route to Increasing Economic Growth: Reducing Highway Congestion with Autonomous Vehicles,” Winston and Karpilow write:

Widespread adoption of autonomous (driverless) vehicles —- which American and foreign technology companies and automakers are actively developing, testing, and perfecting, with some industry leaders and US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx expecting driverless vehicles to be available to the public by 2021 —- could reduce highway congestion by greatly improving the flow of traffic and by reducing vehicle accidents without significantly increasing the monetary cost of commuting.

Using our estimation results for California and conservatively extrapolating to the nation, we find that the adoption of autonomous vehicles could have potentially large macroeconomic stimulative effects. Specifically, in a given year, a 50 percent penetration rate for autonomous vehicles (i.e., half of the vehicles used by motorists would be driverless) could add at least $214 billion in GDP, 2.4 million jobs, and $90 billion in income to the US labor force.

Read the paper and decide for yourself if this analysis holds water. If it does, Virginia needs to jump on board the autonomous-automobile train (pardon the ironic metaphor). Early-adopter states will enjoy tremendous economic advantages over the laggards. It could be the least expensive economic boost ever.

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One response to “Autonomous Cars — a Cheap Economic Boost?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    VDOT has figured out that if you provide more capacity as a response to congestion – then what happens is more people drive and that capacity quickly gets filled up again.

    What they also found out is that if you institute tolls that dynamically adjust to demand that they can maintain a relatively congestion free trip… though the tolls might be steep -unless you are in an HOV-3 vehicle.

    I don’t see how autonomous cars change any of this to be honest.

    I think VDOT has it right. No amount of excess capacity will lead to congestion-free trips in the urban areas that are thick with SOV commuters… all it will do is attract more and more SOV cars that will consume whatever excess capacity is added.. it’s a losing game.

    the future of roads is going to be …user-pays… the user – at that time -will pay. The choices will be travel in the “free” lanes with the other schlubs.. all dying of congestion.. or travel in the “pay” lanes.. by either paying or by being in an HOV.

    you pays your money and youse makes your choice. the use or non-use of an autonomous vehicle will matter little except that I think if you mix autonomous vehicles with human-driven vehicles all holy hell will ensue including a much higher accident rate as the autonomous vehicles will never understand just how dumb and irresponsible human drivers can be.

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