How Will Self-Driving Vehicles Impact the Environment?

published Jan 08, 2020
2 min read

Autonomous Vehicle

Self-driving cars once seemed an impossibility, a vision of a far-away future that we’d not get to see in our lifetimes. But these vehicles have already hit the road and made an impact on drivers everywhere. For one thing, experts say that autonomous transport will cut down on road-traffic accidents and save lives each year.

Plus, self-driving cars will also have a positive effect on the environment. Traditional combustion engines release pollutants into the atmosphere — cars and trucks contribute one-fifth of these damaging emissions in the U.S. alone. But autonomous vehicles fix some of the major environmental issues that come with regular cars. When more of them get on the road, here’s how self-driving cars will impact the earth:

Self-Driving Cars Handle the Road More Wisely

Drivers will always make errors on the road — it’s part of being human. Even if they’re not involved in accidents, drivers can make mistakes behind the wheel that make their cars run inefficiently. For instance, pressing down on the gas pedal too quickly or slamming on the brakes at every stoplight can jolt the car in and out of motion. A gentler driving style can help reduce the fuel required to keep the car moving.

Self-driving cars gauge precisely when and where to stop and start. They ease in and out of stoplights in a way that helps preserve a car’s resources. Plus, these vehicles will choose the smartest route to get from point A to point B. As such, they need less fuel to navigate passengers.

Self-Driving Cars Interact With Each Other to Drive Smarter

It may seem as though self-driving cars would have a negative impact on public transit programs. Namely, if customers had the choice between piling onto a crowded bus and commuting or letting their autonomous vehicle take them to work, it’s clear what they’d select.

However, as more and more commuters switch from traditional to self-driving cars, the morning commute could become more sustainable. That’s because these vehicles have built-in technology that allows them to interact with each other. Self-driving cars will drive closer together, moving in a platoon style to get people to their final destinations more quickly and sustainably. In fact, this close-knit commute could reduce vehicles’ energy usage by up to 25 percent.

Self-Driving Cars Improve Ride-Sharing Programs

Self-driving cars could be seen as a disruptive addition to the ride-sharing industry. Indeed, it’s a new technology that businesses can choose to incorporate, or they can stick to traditional, driver-operated vehicles.

As an expert in disruptive technologies — he directs Stanford’s department on the subject — Michael Steep understands the precautions of adopting or ignoring updated tech. Steep explained that, in the case of self-driving cars, taking an outside-in approach to such technology could be a revenue opportunity for ride-sharing programs.

Companies have to choose whether to ignore the advancement or incorporate it. Bringing in self-driving cars means that they will remain on the road even at times when an Uber or Lyft driver might prefer to be off the clock, thus making the most of disruptive technology.

On that note, self-driving cars can make ride-sharing programs more eco-friendly, too. Having these vehicles on the road means that customers can carpool at all hours of the day and night, thus reducing the number of single-passenger cars on the road. Plus, carpooling wouldn’t require passengers to figure out a place to park, so it becomes a more viable option for city commuters.

Electric Self-Driving Cars Could Have Even More of an Impact

As you likely know, an electric car is one that uses an internal battery or fuel cell for power, rather than gasoline. On their own, electric cars have incredible stats when it comes to sustainability. Namely, they’re 95 percent efficient, in comparison to the 30 percent efficiency at which traditional combustion engines run. Plus, electric cars release no emissions, which greatly improves air quality.

So, when engineers eventually make self-driving cars electric, there will be even more of an eco-friendly impact from this technology. As previously mentioned, an increase in electric cars on the road will improve air quality. Plus, producing these vehicles doesn’t require many resources, since the majority of auto parts today come from recycled materials.

In the End, It’s Up to Consumers

Self-driving cars have plenty of sustainable assets to provide, but it’ll be up to consumers to make them a popular part of modern society. People will have to opt for ride-sharing and carpools helmed by self-driving vehicles. They’ll have to want to opt into neighbourhood driving programs that keep self-driving cars circling the same areas, too. These choices will reduce the number of traditional cars on the road while increasing how many sustainable, autonomous vehicles zoom around.

Will you try a self-driving car for your commute? Could you see one sitting in your driving? If so, you could help revolutionise the roads in a way that protects the planet and preserves our future. It might be up to a decade until you can have an autonomous vehicle of your own, but the wait will be well worth it for you and the environment.

Author Bio

Jenna Tsui is an environmental and tech journalist who co-owns The Byte Beat blog. She writes about the latest news in sustainability, disruptive tech, environmental science and more. Check out her work on TBB or follow her on Twitter @jenna_tsui