How Autonomous Driving Could Fix Florida’s Traffic Problems

By  //  July 29, 2022

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Traffic congestion is a problem worldwide. It costs us time and money, takes a toll on our physical and mental health, and increases air and noise pollution. And it should also come as no surprise that Florida is high on the list of states with the worst traffic.

Traffic issues abound in Miami, Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Pensacola, and more. Poor driving habits and hazards like uninsured drivers can make some cities even worse for driving.

As you might expect, there are no shortage of proposed high-tech solutions to the traffic issues plaguing Florida’s major metropolitan areas, including solutions like smart traffic lights that change according to the flow of vehicles, not preset timers, as well as replacing delivery vehicles with drones to help alleviate the congestion brought on by gig driving and ride-sharing.

But one particular solution may hold the key to solving Florida’s complicated and notoriously difficult traffic issues: autonomous driving.

Advantages of Autonomous Vehicles

Because driving and the “lure of the open road” has long been considered a cornerstone of the American way of life, widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles is likely to find some resistance as the technology grows more prevalent. However, Florida is poised to be on the leading edge of that adoption, and its cities could stand to benefit significantly.

Though Florida’s traffic woes are numerous, so are the advantages of autonomous vehicles:

■ They reduce accidents. Autonomous vehicles could have a powerful positive effect on road safety, since the vast majority of auto accidents happen because of driver error. By replacing human drivers with sophisticated computers, accidents could be reduced dramatically… and everyone knows how quickly a traffic accident on a major highway can slow traffic to a crawl.

■ Autonomous vehicles could also mean delivery and ride-sharing services could operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without having to worry about driver fatigue.

■ Even regular driving would go more quickly with autonomous vehicles, because they can drive much closer together than human-drivers are able. This means faster transit times, which is good news for pretty much everyone. The overall increased rider safety will mean fewer accidents, which in turn will lead to lower car insurance rates.

■ Less traffic means lower emissions, less stress, and quite possibly a lower blood pressure for everyone on the road.

■ A host of other advantages, such as converting unnecessary parking spaces to green spaces, aiding in the mobility of senior citizens, and more.

Autonomous Vehicles in Florida

Florida is already known for its positivity toward autonomous vehicles. The state invests heavily in infrastructure, and has adopted welcoming policies for technologies like 5G deployment and ride-sharing. Autonomous vehicles have been allowed on Florida’s highways since 2012, and recently allowed the presence of autonomous vehicles without safety drivers.

The Autonomous Florida initiative has speculated that younger people will likely be the driving force (no pun intended) behind the adoption of the technology. In many large cities, it’s not economically feasible to own a car, and younger consumers with a keen awareness of widening income equality in the United States are much more likely to prefer a literal “push-button” solution to getting around urban areas.

All this is not to say that the path toward all-autonomous highways and streets is without obstacles. To facilitate widespread operation of autonomous vehicles requires a massive investment of infrastructure — digital as well as physical. AVs need clear lane striping in order to function properly, and electric vehicles will require a stable charging network to be in place. These could cause problems early on, leading to the public cooling on the whole idea of AVs as unfeasible or unrealistic. Most cities would likely have to invest in some sort of outreach program or other methods of engaging the public and getting support for the developing technology.

Also, despite the laws making it legal for autonomous vehicles to be on the road, many companies and cities are taking a measured approach toward embracing the technology, fearing that premature adoption could damage public trust if something went seriously wrong with AV technology during its rollout. Adding self-driving cars to an existing environment of traditional vehicles could also temporarily add to Florida’s traffic problems instead of alleviating them.

Ironically, another obstacle to autonomous vehicles could arise because the technology solves a problem. Many cities get a significant amount of revenue from parking fees, tickets for speeding and running red lights, and other human-caused law violations that autonomous vehicles simply would not replicate. This means cities would need to find some other means of raising that revenue, possibly leading to the dreaded tax increase.

No change comes without resistance and an adjustment period, and AVs are no exception to this rule. But Florida’s already welcoming and enthusiastic attitude toward the subject of autonomous driving could make a major difference in how soon the technology becomes an everyday sight.