Autonomous vehicles will add to traffic chaos, not solve it


Youtuber GCP Grey claims in a famous video that autonomous vehicles (AVs) would solve traffic bottlenecks. While the basic reasoning behind his assertion is correct, it is far from the truth since it completely disregards externalities. As does this ludicrously wrong article from 2016, which states that after autonomous vehicles are widely used, we'll only need 15-25 percent of the present number of automobiles.

GCP Grey's premise is that AVs can respond faster and communicate with one another than humans, allowing them to move more efficiently on highways. True, however there are certain flaws with it that he ignores, some of which are detailed in a reaction video by YouTuber Adam Something. GCP Grey and many other individuals projecting the future of AVs overlook one important issue in particular: Jevon's Paradox.

What is Jevons’ Paradox?

When economist William Jevons was examining coal consumption in England in the mid-nineteenth century, he coined the term "Jevons' paradox." It simply asserts that as resource consumption efficiency improves, so does overall resource utilization.

Most people find this to be illogical, however it really follows supply and demand principles, making it a veridical paradox (something that sounds untrue but is nonetheless true). In Jevons' scenario, he discovered that as coal-burning technology improved in efficiency, so did demand for coal, to the point that overall coal consumption continued to rise despite technological advances in the amount of productive labor that could be created from the same input of coal.

In Jervons’ Paradox, when the efficiency of resource consumption increases so does overall use of the resource. (Image supplied by author)

Energy efficiency increases demand

In modern culture, Jevons' paradox manifests itself in a variety of ways. For example, when refrigerator energy efficiency increases, the cost of refrigeration drops, increasing demand.

As energy efficiency has improved in the United States, the quantity of power consumed to refrigerate has climbed. People began to buy additional refrigerators, and some began to possess numerous refrigerators (27 percent of urban households and 40 percent of rural ones havemore than one refrigerator). This has happened with electricity for light bulbs, fuel for automobiles, computing power for computers, raw resources like copper, and a variety of other things.

To put it another way, when the cost of using something falls, it becomes more popular.

Easy car use means more mileage

The ervons' paradox relates not just to monetary expenses, but also to opportunity costs. While many individuals are bound by the costs of driving (vehicle ownership, maintenance, and gasoline), there are also many persons for whom the opportunity cost of driving is the primary limiting factor. After all, if you didn't have to drive the automobile, would you travel in it more? Also, most individuals who cannot afford to purchase a car will be able to afford to use self-driving cabs on occasion.

When a person can do whatever they want in their automobile as it drives them to their destination, they are more likely to spend more time in it. Consider being able to work, watch TV shows, sleep, or eat while driving to work. Longer commutes would be acceptable to all of us.

Picking up groceries while you stay at home, dropping off your pet at the vet, picking up prescription for you, dropping youngsters off at school or soccer practice, and then driving back home would all be possible with AVs.

Imagine sleeping in your car and waking up in a holiday spot or a relative's house in another state the next day, with the car driving you there as you sleep luxuriously on the bed inside. AVs greatly reduce the opportunity cost of travel, resulting in more travel. Consider how much more van dwellers and RV retirees would travel if their self-driving RV allowed them to do anything they wanted inside. Or how many more people would choose to live that way?

Autonomous vehicles mean more vehicles on the streets

AVs will also make cabs more affordable, resulting in more taxis on the roads. Furthermore, shipping items becomes less expensive, resulting in increased consumption. All of this leads to an increase in the number of automobiles crammed onto our limited roadway space. This will be especially noticeable in densely populated areas and prominent tourist destinations (there are already infamous lines of cars to get into places like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite; with AVs, travelling to these places by road would become impossible).

GCP Grey's video depicts automobiles all traveling at the same pace on a straight highway. Even autonomous vehicles must slow down for corners and halt to allow passengers to enter and exit. What will New York City look like when autonomous vehicles dominate it?

AVs are a fantastic, revolutionary technology that will assist a wide range of people, including those with disabilities, children, and the elderly, as well as lowering shipping costs and likely being safer than human driving.

The drawbacks, on the other hand, will be a tragedy of the commons. I'm not excited about this breakthrough technology, and all I can hope for is that we can make our cities car-free before it arrives.
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