Driverless Cars and Speed Limits

How fast should driverless cars be allowed to drive?  Driverless cars are programmed to travel at the designated speed limits on our roads. This makes complete logical sense; however, the reality is that this is a lot slower than most vehicles travel on many of our roads. And, in fact, a Delphi spokesperson at the Automated Vehicle Symposium mentioned that during Delphi’s autonomous vehicle cross-country test drive, they found that many other drivers were quite frustrated with how slow the driverless car was going (visual: picture significant honking and unpleasant hand gestures)!

Obviously, cars are currently designed to travel at speeds much higher than existing speed limits. In an entirely autonomous (and possibly connected) world, it’s possible that government agencies will be able to increase speed limits significantly since the cars will, seemingly, be able to make smart, safe decisions about where they drive and how quickly. Assuming minimal traffic, we could arrive at our destinations significantly faster than our current trip times.

On the other hand, government agencies probably won’t be able to change speed limits in our current, mixed vehicles environment. With both manual and automated cars on our roads, the safe bet is to keep the speed limits as-is. In fact, a Department for Transport spokesman said: “There are no plans to change speed limits, which will still apply to driverless cars”. (source)

Be prepared: automation may get us places slower before we can get places faster!

About Lauren Isaac

I am the Manager of Transportation Sustainability at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Recently, I won the William Barclay Parsons fellowship for my research proposal to study how the United States government should respond to driverless cars. As I'm working on my research, I thought this blog would help to disseminate my findings and provide a forum for feedback.
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3 Responses to Driverless Cars and Speed Limits

  1. Andy says:

    Seems like the 55 MPH limit was initially designed for fuel conservation. With new technologies being developed, maybe we can finally part with an outdated rule? http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2009/07/27/55-mph-speed-limit-is-unenforceable-and-counterproductive

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  2. cliff says:

    How effective can an av/cv be in crash avoidance of manaul vehicles? Should av/cv vehicles focus on crash worthiness or avoidance? How important is av/cv speed/travel time when driverless and likely productive? Insurance rates on manual vehicles could change the vehicle population quickly. Lots of economic incentives will be in play to answer these questions.

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    • Lauren Isaac says:

      You raise good questions! I read a study that predicted there will likely be more accidents (due to a mixed vehicle society) before the accident rate is reduced. Hopefully, the insurance industry combined with government regulations/polices will incentivize a quick turn-over of the vehicle fleet so we can see some accident reductions more quickly. On the other hand, we risk the increase in accidents causing fear and avoidance of AV/CV. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves!

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