23/11/2018 11:47 GMT | Updated 23/11/2018 12:08 GMT

Driverless Cars Could Create 'Red Light Districts On Wheels', Study Says

Experts warn automated vehicles could also provide cover for drug dealing and terrorism.

Self-driving vehicles will encourage people to have sex in cars and could lead to Amsterdam-style “red light districts on wheels,” according to a new study.

People will be more likely to eat, sleep and engage in sexual activity when robot cars become the new normal in the next 20 years, according to findings published in the journal Annals of Tourism Research.

The study explores how advances in automated transportation could reshape tourism around the world by displacing workers and reducing traffic congestion, emissions, parking hassles and the number of accidents.

“People will be sleeping in their vehicles, which has implications for roadside hotels. And people may be eating in vehicles that function as restaurant pods,” said one of the authors of the study, Scott Cohen, of the University of Surrey.

“So It’s not impossible or that far-fetched to imagine the red light district on the move. Prostitution doesn’t need to be legal for this to happen. Plenty of illegal activities happen in cars.”


Cohen added: “Where prostitution is legal, and regulations allow AVs [automated vehicles] to develop fast and be on roads quickly, we could see this come together rapidly.”

Nearly half of adults in the UK admitted to having sex in their cars, a study by insurance brokers ALA found earlier this year, with the majority of those surveyed admitting to planning out their vehicular rendezvous ahead of time.

While there is no specific law against having sex in a car in the UK, there are several laws that could be breached, including outraging public decency, behaviour that is likely to cause harassment alarm or distress and offences of exposure.

“It’s when drivers do these things and have to control the vehicle when the real problems start,” said Steve Horton, of Road Safety GB. 

“We think we can multi-task, but the reality is we take driving for granted and the other activity dominates our attention.

“Doing anything whilst controlling a large, heavy object means we are not in full control of what is basically a lethal weapon.”

Cohen, along with Debbie Hopkins of the University of Oxford, pored over about 150 studies on the future of cars and tried to imagine the technology’s impact on tourism in marquee cities.

Under the heading ‘Hospitality and the hedonic urban night’ the report says: “‘Hotels-by-the-hour’ are likely to be replaced by driverless cars and this will have implications for urban tourism, as sex plays a central role in many tourism experiences.

“While connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will likely be monitored to deter passengers having sex or using drugs in them, and to prevent violence, such surveillance may be rapidly overcome, disabled or removed.

“Moreover, personal CAVs will likely be immune from such surveillance. Such private CAVs may also be put to commercial use, as it is just a small leap to imagine Amsterdam’s Red Light District ‘on the move’.”

The study says evening CAV city tours and drunken stag and hen dos may also become more popular and be combined with increases in alcohol consumption, as drunk-driving will no longer be an issue when riding in a CAV.

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Experts warn driverless cars could create 'red light districts on wheels'.

“City visitors might also therefore drink more at bars and restaurants, but additionally may spread drinking out more geographically,” the report goes on.

“Stag and hen dos may become spread out, as opposed to concentrated in particular bar districts, and reliant on CAVs to move drunken revellers across greater distances between drinks in the urban night, perhaps even crossing multiple cities.”

However, the authors also warn that the vehicles could provide cover for a range of illicit activities, including drug dealing or even terrorism in the form of remote-controlled bombs.

Driverless cars could also exacerbate inequality if businesses pay to influence the algorithms that guide them. Restaurants that can afford to appear on a tour vessel’s “top destinations” menu would gain a advantage over smaller shops.

“The itineraries are likely to be affected by algorithms that give preferential treatment to sites that pay for service – which could benefit large multi-nationals, and neglect local businesses in the short term – and may result in backlash as some tourists seek ‘authentic’ local experiences,” the report states.

“The spatial routing of tours may therefore be commercialised to the extent that CAVs will hide certain aspects of the urban environment from tourists, blacking their view. As an example, souvenir shops paying for inclusion within the algorithms may enjoy streams of visitors.”

Circulating CAVs could also reconfigure urban space, as parking currently occupies one third of real estate in many large cities.

The news comes days after the government announced the introduction of five autonomous single-deck vehicles to run between Edinburgh and Fife, beginning service in 2020.

Driverless cars are also set to be trialled in London within three years.