A new Department for Transport (DFT) study has shown that driverless cars could significantly reduce time spent in delays and cut journey times. 

As part of the study, virtual models of different parts of the UK’s road network – including urban roads and a 20km section of motorway - were created using computer software to monitor traffic flow. As the number of automated vehicles increased, delays and the movement of traffic improved. 

The research helps clarify the potential impact of this new technology and is likely the first of several trials and projects to ensure driverless or automated vehicles will be safe and beneficial when introduced. 

Different scenarios were researched, including the level of automation, proportion of vehicles equipped with the technology and different automated driving styles. 

On major roads where there were more traditional than automated vehicles, benefits were largely small, but improved as the percentage of driverless cars on the roads increased. At peak traffic periods with up to 100 per cent driverless vehicles, journey times were cut by 11 per cent and delays were reduced by more than 40 per cent. 

The study also found that urban roads benefited in peak traffic periods. Even with low levels of automated vehicles there was a 12 per cent improvement in delays and journey times became 21 per cent more reliable. 

The first 100 self-driving vehicles, which are being created by Volvo and are set to come onto the market in 2018, will look identical to their standard counterparts but will allow users to switch to ‘autopilot’ while on certain routes in and around London. 

Before their arrival, a number of charities such as Cycling UK have voiced concerns over driverless cars, claiming that cyclists and pedestrians may behave more erratically around them as they believe they will always stop. 

“While any efforts to ease congestion on our roads and improve the driving environment for motorists in the UK is welcome, it is paramount that this new technology undergoes many more trials and tests before it is rolled out across the country,” said David Robinson, senior serious injury solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors. 

“We know from previous studies that the public needs to be far better educated about autonomous vehicles before they are introduced to our roads. The government must now act swiftly with both its research and education campaigns, and motorists need to take the time to learn more about this new technology, to ensure our roads remain as safe as possible and that people aren't put at risk of serious injury when the changes start to come in.”