A Government report warns that if self-driving cars become commonplace, drivers could be stuck in congestion at nearly twice the current levels.
Department of Transport (DfT) traffic projections for England and Wales show that delays could increase by up to 85% from 2025 to 2060 in this scenario.
The analysis is based on connected and autonomous vehicles, which make up half of the vehicle fleet by 2047, and the “rapid uptake” of electric vehicles.
According to the report, this will lead to more traffic, “increasing the mobility of the elderly and those who do not currently hold a driver’s license.”
But the document, released last month, claims that “the ability to work or rest while traveling in a self-driving car” means that passengers will be “more fit to sit in traffic.”
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, told the PA news agency: “There are currently 5.9 million driver’s license holders aged 70 and over in the UK, so we know there is a demand for mobility among the elderly.
“In the foreseeable future, autonomous vehicles offer an attractive prospect of independence for the millions of older people who are not currently driving for any reason (cost, medical incapacity).”
Mr Gooding predicted that the way autonomous technology is implemented will be important.
“If everyone insists on having their own self-driving car, the volume of traffic and the pressure to park will increase.
“However, if we are ready to access these vehicles on demand and give up personal ownership, then we can achieve a win-win situation: quieter roads, fewer cars shared by many, and cheaper transportation.”
Recent analysis by traffic information provider Inrix found that UK drivers lost an average of 80 hours in traffic jams last year; that’s a seven-hour increase from 2021.
London, where drivers in the capital spend an average of 156 hours sitting in traffic, became the world’s most populous city in 2022.
Author and publisher Christian Wolmar, author of Driverless Cars: The Road to Nowhere, insisted that the Government should not “try to adapt” to the traffic levels feared by self-driving cars.
He said: “We must do everything we can to ensure that this does not happen.
“The idea that you have a technological solution to congestion is ridiculous.”
Wolmar described the proposal that self-driving cars will have a “critical mass” by 2047 as “fantasy”.
“I think the probability of self-driving cars operating in large numbers or any kind of hardship in other traffic jams is zero.
“Very little real progress has been made in creating cars that can go anywhere in all conditions.
“It does not seem possible.”
Fully self-driving cars are not legally allowed in the UK, but autonomous features are being developed by car manufacturers.
Oxford-based technology company Oxbotica completed the first fully autonomous, driverless vehicle test on public roads in May 2022.
In August last year, DfT said it expects autonomous vehicles to be ready for use by 2025.