Archives For Clifford Winston

Handout photo from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

People seem to have very mixed feelings on all of this talk about driverless cars — some are very reluctant to give up the wheel and others are genuinely excited to hand the reigns over to a robot.

However, there’s one major obstacle that will keep these robot-driven cars from achieving their true potential.

The horrendous current state of U.S. roads!

A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal discusses how badly U.S. highways need to be revamped to accommodate driverless or “autonomous” cars:

The driverless car represents one of the most amazing breakthroughs in safety and quality of life in recent history. Instead of focusing on enormously expensive high-speed rail as our transportation future, the government would do well to stop hindering driverless cars by its obsolete thinking about our nation’s roads.

It seems like a no-brainer, you can imagine that with an innovation such as this, the auto manufacturers would be ready WAY before state highway departments.

The article, written by Brookings Institution scholar Clifford Winston, says that car manufacturers “have made one technological improvement after another since the car was introduced to consumers more than a century ago” — but the roads, streets and highways are another story completely.

“Unfortunately, the paved systems on which cars travel have not advanced much in comparison,” Winston writes. “Without reimagining the way we design and maintain highways, the driverless car will achieve little of its potential.”

Uh oh!

Researchers project that getting the robot-driven cars out on the roads will dramatically decrease car accidents caused by human error. The vehicles sweep up info on nearby cars from short-range transmitters at a rate of 10 times per second — which helps them react much more rapidly than human drivers.

If upgrades were tackled competently and with urgency (a big if), the new tech could revolutionize U.S. roads and highways. Winston says:

Driverless cars don’t need the same wide lanes, which would allow highway authorities to reconfigure roads to allow travel speeds to be raised during peak travel periods. All that is needed would be illuminated lane dividers that can increase the number of lanes available. Driverless cars could take advantage of the extra lane capacity to reduce congestion and delays. …

The smaller volume of trucks could be handled with one or two wide lanes with a road surface about a foot thick, to withstand trucks’ weight and axle pressure. But the much larger volume of cars — which apply much less axle pressure that damages pavement — need more and narrower lanes that are only a few inches thick. Building highways that separate cars and trucks by directing them to lanes with the appropriate thickness would save taxpayers a bundle.

Well, let’s face it, saving taxpayers “a bundle” has never been one of the U.S. government’s defining attributes …

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