Self-driving home for Christmas

Technology and Business

Alice Salter

Alice Salter



In this article, we ask:

  • Will driverless travel ease the terrible traffic we often see at Christmas?
  • Could autonomous vehicles (AVs) help us make it home safely for the holidays?
  • Will AVs ultimately deliver universal mobility?


There’s no doubting that we all travel more over the holidays. We’re already travelling by road more than we used to, and that seems to peak over Christmas. In the US, 100 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the festive season, and nearly 90% of that is in vehicles which travel by road. And that’s before we add in all the time spent driving to and from shops, as well as in circles looking for a parking space.


As we come towards the end of this strange year, the challenges of travel over the festive period become even more apparent. While Covid-19 is still a threat, many of us are reluctant to use public transport and may not be too keen on car-sharing either. Plus, the peak in travel over the holidays – prompted in many places by relaxing restrictions for the days around Christmas – is already making it difficult for many to find their way home safely. Trains are fully booked, and heavy traffic seems a fact of the season.


For those who cannot drive, those who struggle to travel and those who are necessarily hyper-vigilant of their exposure to strangers at the moment, travel in any substantial way may seem nearly impossible. So, how could driverless technology help in the future?


Could AVs ease terrible traffic over Christmas?


It’s perhaps not the most pressing concern, but traffic certainly gets us talking over the holidays. It’s a perennial problem as the addition of extra cars – filled with all those people travelling extra miles for Christmas – leads to increased traffic, longer waits and slower journeys at a time when we just want to get to our destination.


Though Christmas day itself is incredibly quiet, in terms of traffic at least, we usually see a significant uptick  throughout December, rising again as we reach the New Year. Will driverless cars be the solution?


Quite possibly. As AVs are able to closely monitor the movements of other cars and calculate conditions more accurately than human drivers, they are able to drive closer together and many are being developed with ‘flocking’ behaviours in mind. Research has shown that a fleet of AVs working together can improve traffic flow by at least 35%, so the days of stop-start Christmas trips may soon be a thing of the past!

Self driving home for christmas 2025AD

Could autonomous technology make travelling at Christmas safer?


Though we’d all love to see less traffic, a more pressing issue at Christmas – and throughout the year – is, of course, safety. Partly because so many of us see the distances we cover increase over the festive season, December has become the most dangerous time of year to travel by road. Increased volume of traffic on the roads, combined with worsening weather conditions and all the distractions Christmas might bring, means we become less effective drivers over the holidays.


Autonomous vehicles, on the other hand, are. With their widespread adoption seasonal dangers, like drinking and driving over Christmas and the New Year, could be eliminated as those sitting in the driving seat wouldn’t actually be in charge of the vehicle.


In light of the recent pandemic too, there is even more possibility of AVs keeping us safe at Christmas. Though it’s clear that public transport is a more environmentally friendly option, it’s easy to see why many are reluctant to travel in close quarters with strangers right now. Driverless cars on the other hand offer travel which would allow even the most vulnerable among us to come closer together while keeping our distance in the current situation, or any similar outbreak in the future.


You want to know more about how the recent Covid19 has affected the journey of autonomous technology on our roads? Read our article "COVID19: smart mobility goes viral."



But before we realise these benefits, we would have to become comfortable trusting AVs with even our most vulnerable – something which our recent interview with two American mums showed may still be a way off – and AVs must become capable of safely navigating the bad weather we often see in December. These may take time to develop, but once realised, we’ll surely be rewarded.


Traffic in the snow 2025AD

Will driverless tech ultimately deliver universal mobility?


Non-drivers will see those rewards too. We’ve spoken before about how transport systems which rely on an individual’s ability to either drive, walk or access public transport leave a ‘mobility underclass’ which simply cannot access straightforward, accessible and affordable travel. Across Europe young people are particularly at-risk drivers, those with disabilities have long known the flaws in public transportation and many older people are feeling obligated to drive, though they’re more likely to lose control of their cars if distracted, because there are few other options open to them.


For each of these groups, especially around the holidays when so many of us want to spend time together, driverless vehicles offer fresh opportunities. Travel becomes more accessible once an AV can collect you from your home, the knowledge requirements for travelling in one are minimal and the time spent en route can be used productively too. It has been suggested that the universal mobility driverless tech could offer has the potential to change people’s lives dramatically – making work, social opportunities and more all more accessible – and offers a much better chance of arriving at a destination safe and sound. What a wonderful thing that would be over the festive season.


Would you use an AV to travel home for Christmas? Are you excited that AVs could mean reduced traffic? Or is giving people who are less able to travel new ways to do just that a particular pull? We’re always interested to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.


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