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Research

Self-Driving Cars Will Crash Less, Reduce Traffic & Cut Pollution

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Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 9:10 AM

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Self-driving cars will be good for us.

So concludes a new study from the Santa Monica-based RAND Corporation, which says the cars will actually be safer, more environmentally friendly and better for traffic.

Plus, you won't have to call a taxi when you can't drive. Maybe. Of course, self-driving cars are years away. But RAND says we should start planning for them now:

In fact, the effects of autonomous vehicles might be so beneficial to society that RAND researchers suggest (gasp) that they might even "justify some form of government subsidy to encourage more consumers to use the new technology.

The study, "Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers," was published on RAND's own site.

Researchers talked to auto makers, tech companies, communications providers, representatives from state regulatory agencies, and more, and came up with the study as a guide for state and federal policymakers.

The main thrust here is that the cars could leave our roads, environment and body shops pristine. A summary put it this way:

Cars and light vehicles equipped with this technology will likely reduce crashes, energy consumption and pollution, as well as cut costs associated with congestion.

Researchers note that Google has driven 500,000 miles of public roads with its autonomous cars without so much as a serious crash.

The vehicles could also allow us to use our land in big cities more efficiently:

About 31 percent of space used in "central business districts" in major cities is set aside for parking. The cars wouldn't necessarily need local parking as they could drive themselves home or to remote lots, the researchers note.

Cool.

There's still a lot to be done. Weather can trip up the cars' censors. And the vehicles still have a hard time distinguishing between road hazards and other objects.

But RAND recommends we get prepared for this future.

Lead author James Anderson:

Our research finds that the social benefits of autonomous vehicles -- including decreased crashes, increased mobility and increases in fuel economy -- will outweigh the likely disadvantages.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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