But fully automated cars – expected to be on the road by 2020 – could result in more snarl-ups for a variety of reasons. To start with, manufacturers will have to work out common standards so that cars can “talk” to each other safely, while different programs could cause them to drive in different ways.
The study predicts decades of traffic delays until international standards on self-driving cars are agreed upon by manufacturers, many of whom are spending billions developing their own autonomous systems.
This will be further complicated by a mix of traditional and self-driving cars sharing the road at the same time.
A Google car being tested in the US famously became trapped while trying to turn across traffic, with the self-driving vehicle’s program judging it unsafe to try to fit into the small gaps in traffic or force its way in.
Professor David Bailey, a car industry expert at Aston University, said: “There are clearly complex issues around having both types of cars on the road. How can you programme a car to edge out into traffic as a human would do or flash its lights to signal it is letting another car in?”