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Transportation

Could Self-Driving Cars Speed Hurricane Evacuations?

The case for a fully autonomous escape plan.
A car drives through flood waters along interstate 95 after Hurricane Matthew hit Lumberton, North Carolina on Monday.
A car drives through flood waters along interstate 95 after Hurricane Matthew hit Lumberton, North Carolina on Monday.Chris Keane/Reuters

Hurricane Matthew’s record rains were but the first of many obstacles faced by millions of evacuees in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas this past week. Roads were blocked by chest-high floodwaters and downed trees. Gas stations ran out of fuel. And traffic sat backed up for miles along interstate highways as floodwaters overtook what appeared to be tens of thousands of households.

Most did make it to safety, thanks to evacuation orders, well-planned emergency procedures, and traffic managers switching up lanes to move a glut of vehicles (contraflow for the win). But the roads still proved lethal for some motorists, and others never made it out the front door at all. Hurricane Matthew’s death toll now stands at at least 33—and swollen rivers are still rising in North Carolina.