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Separation in the perpendicular direction is required to allow room to maneuver left or right in the event of unexpected events (or even expected ones like oncoming traffic or emergency vehicles). This applies for both self-driving vehicles and human controlled ones.

Autonomous vehicles could coordinate to allow manuevering. I mean, if there is enough space, surely you can keep cars at whatever separation, but in heavy traffic the most efficient would be leaving a lane on the right or left exclusive for emergency (or maybe coordinating vehicles for clearance).

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