Autonomous cars 'will lead to more binge drinking', study finds

Autonomous cars ‘will lead to more binge drinking’ as owners will get drunk thinking they don’t have to worry about driving home

  • Researchers surveyed 1,334 Australian’s of legal driving age as part of the study
  • Nearly half of said they would increase their drinking if they had a driverless car 
  • The team say there is a clear link between a rise in electric vehicles and drinking 

The rise in the number of self-driving cars will lead to more binge drinking as people stop worrying about having to drive home from a pub or club, a study claims. 

Researchers from Curtin University, Australia, say if a group don’t need to assign a designated driver due to having an autonomous car, they will likely drink more.  

The team found that more than a third of adults would increase the amount they usually drink if they could rely on a driverless car to get them home.

Lead author Leon Booth said driverless cars would cut drink-driving rates but increase the amount of alcohol drunk by the population.

The rise in the number of self-driving cars will lead to more binge drinking as people stop worrying about having to drive home from a pub or club, a study claims. Stock image 

Of the 1,334 Australian’s of legal driving age questioned as part of the study, 49 per cent said they were likely to use an autonomous car after drinking alcohol.  

The study also found that 37 per cent of people said they were likely to drink more than they normally would if they didn’t have to drive their own car. 

Booth said the results present a series of problems for health and policy officials as the benefits of driverless cars may be outweighed by the negatives.

This will come in the form of ‘greater overall alcohol consumption due to increased availability of affordable and convenient transport,’ he said.

‘We surveyed 1334 adult Australians, about half of whom reported being likely to use an autonomous vehicle after consuming alcohol, while more than one-third were likely to consume more alcohol if they planned to use an autonomous vehicle (AV).

‘Lower age, more frequent alcohol consumption, a positive attitude to autonomous vehicles and a preference for using ‘ride-share’ AVs were associated with a greater likelihood of engaging in these behaviours.’

The team examined the likely impact a steady rise in the number of autonomous vehicles would have on alcohol consumption through a wide study of Australians.

Co-author Professor Simone Pettigrew said the introduction of vehicles will liekly bring a mixture of positive and negative health effects.

‘This presents a complex challenge for policymakers charged with reducing alcohol-related harms,’ she said.

‘A particular challenge will be the need to encourage the use of autonomous vehicles after drinking without encouraging drinking per se.’ 

She said further research was needed as more people begin users driverless vehicles as the market exposure is currently ‘very limited’.

‘Once autonomous vehicles become readily available they could be used as a means of facilitating out-of-home alcohol consumption and more frequent bouts of heavy drinking,’ Professor Pettigrew said.

Driverless cars have some significant public health benefits in that they reduce the risk of crashes – including those related to drink driving.

The team looked at the impact of services like Uber on the reduction in drink driving as part of their study to estimate what impact AVs would have.

‘While reports are mixed, some estimates suggest that ride-hailing services have reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 1–6 per cent per quarter that they have been available, which is attributed to their convenience and affordability.’ 

The team found that more than a third of adults would increase the amount they usually drink if they could rely on a driverless car to get them home. Stock image

The team say that as AVs will be cheaper to run per journey than taxi like services it would have a greater impact on drink-driving levels but also increase drinking levels.  

Younger respondents, more frequent drinkers, those with positive attitudes to AVs and those with higher intentions to use AV ride-sharing services were more likely to engage in higher levels of drinking. 

Given that people’s exposure to AVs has been very limited to date, more research will be needed as these vehicles become available on Australian roads, to assess whether people’s drinking behaviors actually change in the manner they expect.’ 

Pettigrew expects the vehicles to become available to the mass market around the world by the middle of the decade but won’t be universal at first.

‘It is expected that, for several decades, AVs will operate alongside traditional vehicles ,’ authors wrote in their paper. 

‘Ideally, during this transitional period drivers will choose to use AVs over traditional vehicles after consuming alcohol to reduce drink-driving rates.’ 


Self-driving cars often use a combination of normal two-dimensional cameras and depth-sensing ‘LiDAR’ units to recognise the world around them.

However, others make use of visible light cameras that capture imagery of the roads and streets. 

They are trained with a wealth of information and vast databases of hundreds of thousands of clips which are processed using artificial intelligence to accurately identify people, signs and hazards.   

In LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanning – which is used by Waymo – one or more lasers send out short pulses, which bounce back when they hit an obstacle.

These sensors constantly scan the surrounding areas looking for information, acting as the ‘eyes’ of the car.

While the units supply depth information, their low resolution makes it hard to detect small, faraway objects without help from a normal camera linked to it in real time.

In November last year Apple revealed details of its driverless car system that uses lasers to detect pedestrians and cyclists from a distance.

The Apple researchers said they were able to get ‘highly encouraging results’ in spotting pedestrians and cyclists with just LiDAR data.

They also wrote they were able to beat other approaches for detecting three-dimensional objects that use only LiDAR.

Other self-driving cars generally rely on a combination of cameras, sensors and lasers. 

An example is Volvo’s self driving cars that rely on around 28 cameras, sensors and lasers.

A network of computers process information, which together with GPS, generates a real-time map of moving and stationary objects in the environment.

Twelve ultrasonic sensors around the car are used to identify objects close to the vehicle and support autonomous drive at low speeds.

A wave radar and camera placed on the windscreen reads traffic signs and the road’s curvature and can detect objects on the road such as other road users.

Four radars behind the front and rear bumpers also locate objects.

Two long-range radars on the bumper are used to detect fast-moving vehicles approaching from far behind, which is useful on motorways.

Four cameras – two on the wing mirrors, one on the grille and one on the rear bumper – monitor objects in close proximity to the vehicle and lane markings. 

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