Self-Driving Cars Could Drastically Reduce Vehicle Ownership, Study Says

Fri, 3/16/2018 - 9:35 pm by Kirsten Rincon

While there seems to be a consensus in the auto industry that self-driving cars represent the future of driving, and that they will have major implications on traffic and transportation as a whole, there has been debate over how they will affect the very idea of car ownership as we know it today. There are those who claim that autonomous driving technology will lead to more vehicles on the road, as it will allow people with disabilities and the elderly – who would otherwise not be allowed to drive – to own and operate cars, but according to a recent study, it could have the opposite effect.

A new study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) says that driverless cars will cut vehicle ownership in the U.S. substantially, primarily due to the fact that they will further promote the vehicle sharing concept, that has been gaining a lot of traction lately. Michaek Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, the authors of the study, analyzed data from the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) regarding the number of vehicles in each household and the number of trips made by each person in a given household, and concluded that vehicle ownership could drop by 43% once self-driving cars become mainstream, which could happen in about 15-20 years.

The researchers found that in 2009, 41.6 percent of households had two cars, 31.9 percent had one car, and 26.5 percent had three or more cars. What’s more, 83.7% of the households didn’t have any overlapping trips, meaning that they don’t need to use more than one vehicle at a time. Additionally, only 15 percent of households had two drivers. The study says that the current average vehicle ownership rate is 2.1 vehicles per household, which could be reduced to just 1.2 further down the road, with the researchers noting that this huge drop will not happen overnight.

This predicted reduction in vehicle ownership is explained with the fact that driverless cars will allow households to only own one vehicle without having to deal with conflicting trips. With each household owning a self-driving car, household members will be able to share it and still avoid overlapping trips. For instance, one family member could use the car to go to work, and have the car return home to pick up another member and take them wherever they need to go, while the initial user is at work. This way, more members within one household could use just one car, which will undoubtedly cut ownership rates throughout the country.

However, while autonomous driving technology is bound to lead to fewer cars on the road, on the other hand, it will result in more miles driven. According to the study, a 75-percent increase in total miles driven can be expected, with the current average of 11,661 annual miles per vehicle estimated to jump to 20,046 miles.

If the estimations in this study are proved to be true, self-driving cars should help reduce costs associated with owning a vehicle, eliminating the need for households to own more than one car, and could highly likely help ease traffic congestion, and as a result, reduce carbon emissions.