Research News

Expert: Autonomous vehicles could help traffic, but not anytime soon

Nashville is voting May 1 on a far-reaching transit proposal, and months of debate leading up to election day has included whether autonomous vehicles might be the solution to the city’s gridlock woes.

Certainly not anytime in the near future, says one of the nation’s foremost experts. But Dan Work, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, also says his promising research shows adding autonomous vehicles to roadways could end the stop-and-go traffic that drives commuters insane. On a closed track, his team monitored 21 cars – one of them at first driven by a person and then switched to autonomous operation.

“We saw that, not only did the stop-and-go wave disappear, but the transition from stop-and-go traffic to smooth flow resulted in fuel consumption reduction of all the other vehicles of up to 40 percent,” Work said.

The experiment didn’t include the lane changes, merges or wide variations in vehicles that drivers experience on regular roads, but future research will, Work said.

He also can discuss:

  • the pros and cons of autonomous vehicles on roadways, including safety issues;
  • autonomous features of cars already on the road, and how use of these will increase into fully autonomous vehicles;
  • why Nashville, with its exponential growth, makes an ideal place to test theories around autonomous vehicles.

Media inquiries

Heidi Hall, (615) 322-NEWS