According to data gathered by researchers, travel delays might become the least of people's concerns in the near future, when tens of millions of self-driving cars are reportedly expected to be on American highways, according to the media report.
'Unlike most of the data breaches we hear about, hacked cars have physical consequences', assistant professor and study co-leader Peter Yunker of Georgia Tech's School of Physics said in a written statement about the research, cited by The Daily Mail.
Yunker and three co-authors simulated what a group of hacked autonomous cars could do to traffic in a place like Manhattan, where streets and avenues form a grid designed to reduce the potential for gridlock.
Fatal accidents and injured or sick people dying in ambulances stuck in gridlock are two potentially severe consequences of cyber-attacked vehicles connected to the Internet, according to the study.
The research reportedly determined that stalling only 20 percent of cars during rush hour in places like New York City would cause a 'total traffic freeze'.
'At 20 percent, the city has been broken up into small islands, where you may be able to inch around a few blocks, but no one would be able to move across town,' graduate research assistant David Yanni said, quoted by The Daily Mail.
Meanwhile, US-based researchers claim that the same level of traffic jams might occur with a 20-percent hack during 'intermediate' daytime traffic.
"Manhattan has a nice grid, and that makes traffic more efficient [...] Looking at cities without large grids like Atlanta, Boston, or Los Angeles, and we think hackers could do worse harm, because a grid makes you more robust with redundancies to get to the same places down many different routes", Yunker said, cited by The Daily Mail.
City engineers, however, are looking to avoid the potential threat from cybercriminals by creating separate data storage on multiple digital networks to prevent hackers from having access to a single car, simply by compromising one or two web networks, the media report says.
'If you could also make sure that cars next to each other can't be hacked at the same time that would decrease the risk of them blocking off traffic together', postdoctoral researcher and study lead author Skanka Vivek said, cited by The Daily Mail.