Driverless cars: an accident waiting to happen?

A recent discussion on the Infrastructure Investor LinkedIn page, initiated by civil engineer and infrastructure entrepreneur Hass McCook, served as a reminder of the potential for driverless cars – and the impact it might have on the long-term business plans of private toll road operators.

McCook makes the claim that driverless cars “will be coming whilst a lot of motorways are still 50 percent through their 40-year concession period”. He goes on to make the claim that driverless cars “will either send motorway concessionaires bankrupt OR will increase the efficiency of their motorway assets by several fold”.

As indicated by McCook’s words above, the impact of this new technology is hard to predict. But on the down side (for toll road operators) is the view that the so-called “congestion premium” – what people will pay to avoid a crammed highway – may be lowered or removed by the ability of driverless cars to contribute to more efficient and free-flowing traffic on all roads.

With the New York-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers forecasting that self-driving vehicles will comprise 75 percent of the global traffic stream by 2040, there are – also in the words of McCook – “interesting times ahead”.

Private toll road operators may just be hoping that the brakes will be applied to this new area of innovation.