The managing director of ARRB Group, an independent research and consulting body for roads and transport, told the International Driverless Cars Conference in Adelaide this week that the introduction of autonomous vehicles will be a “disruptive” event that could realise benefits across society.
The most significant impact, ARRB’s Gerard Waldron said, would be a dramatic reduction of Australia’s road safety costs.
Referring not only to the multi-faceted cost of dealing with fatalities and serious injuries on the roads, but also that of the supporting services and infrastructure, ARRB’s Gerard Waldron said that the nation’s $27 billion annual “road safety bill” could be reduced by up to 90 percent with the advent of driverless cars.
By comparison, the Australian Government’s National Road Safety Strategy is currently targeting a 30 percent reduction in road trauma (fatalities and injuries) by 2020, although a push toward 50 percent has also been mooted.
Around four people are killed on Australian roads every day, while a further 90 are seriously injured.
Mr Waldron added that reduced congestion, along with the adoption of alternative-energy powertrains and advanced driving technologies far smarter than the average human motorist, would deliver huge environmental benefits.
That claim is backed up by research published this year by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California that suggests a move to driverless electric cars could reduce per-mile (1.6km) greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 percent.
Benefits flow through to urban design, with homes able to focus more on interior space and parking infrastructure made significantly more efficient.
David Homburg, principal of Hassell Studio and SA Chapter president at the Australian Institute of Architects, said this week that homes with a narrower driveway and garage footprint - where multiple driverless cars would arrange themselves without human involvement - would recover around six square metres of usable space per car, worth around $6000.
Homburg added that, as with homes, valet parking technology in multi-storey carparks - with self-driving cars able to park closer to each other - would deliver a 25 percent increase in space efficiency.
Apart from fitting more vehicles into each parking facility, the improvement could also allow cities to reclaim space currently devoted to car parks on streets, in multi-storey facilities, and surrounding shopping centres.
Considering that the Sydney CBD has just 209 parking spaces available for every 1000 workers entering the city each day, catering to driverless cars could quickly become a compelling option for city planners of the future.
And, according to Jay Weatherill, the premier of South Australia, there are far-reaching benefits to the country’s technology and manufacturing sectors to be found in an industry projected to be worth $90 billion by 2030.
“Driverless cars fit in with a broader strategy for South Australia: transforming from an old economy to new,” Weatherill told delegates at this week’s International Driverless Car Conference.
“This is an exciting time of disruption for industries imagining new futures. We believe in manufacturing, advanced manufacturing for our state. A state better able to weather the peaks and troughs of the world economy.”
Weatherill said that 40 percent of South Australia’s energy use is already drawn from renewable energy, and Adelaide is working hard to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city - a goal that could be helped significantly by a reduction of private car usage and the adoption of driverless vehicles.