Select the search type
  • Site
  • Web


Published on Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Environmental Impacts of Self-Driving Vehicles


Environmental Impacts of Self-Driving Vehicles

Self driving cars. Who would have thought it would be a conceivable notion in our lifetime? But alas, here we are not only discussing it, but actually performing it today in cities which people live. It is an astonishing feat - one that also comes at a time when climate change is among the most widely-discussed agendas of the world. It was only then a matter of time before the two paths crossed in which we asked ourselves the million dollar question: what impact do self driving cars have on the environment?

Climate scientists routinely point to numerous offenders who account for massive amounts of greenhouse gases. Fossil fuel-reliant cars are responsible for about one fifth of carbon dioxide and other gases that seep into the U.S. environment. And while Tesla is the big player on stage for rolling out luxury electric cars, many companies before it recognized the need to develop an energy efficient vehicle that would one day operate driverlessly. While such companies have hit the ground running, using places such as Pittsburgh to test autonomous cars, researchers have been keenly taking note of the advantages and disadvantages of the new way in which we define a normal commute. Let’s explore what they’ve noted.

The Good

We can start with the most easily observed benefit of self driving cars, and that is less people! Simply put, commuters would often give their right arm if it meant not having to get behind a wheel to sit in traffic for hours, sometimes multiple times a day. If there are less humans behind the wheel, so too are there less cars. This also means less carbon emissions flowing into the atmosphere and contributing to an already dire air quality. It is astonishing to know that vehicles on the road today account for 2 billion barrels of oil usage. With fewer vehicles on the road, it’s easy to imagine a less fossil fuel dependent environment. Speaking of fuel, cars that talk to each other and communicate with traffic signals are designed to be fuel-efficient, using only what is necessary without going overboard. Driverless cars are less likely to sit idle than those driven by humans.  

While fewer cars on the road won’t necessarily diminish the number of accidents, in theory it will reduce the loss of life. According to Road Crash Statistics, 1.3 million people suffer fatal car accidents each year. Death is usually highest among 15-44 year olds -- the very same demographic groups most likely to use autonomous cars. Vehicular accidents have environmental impacts too. With so many accidents taking place everyday, it is no wonder oil spills result from crashes, making the environment an indirect victim as well. Subsequently, landfills are clogged by car wreckage, especially when insurance companies deem vehicles as totalled. This impacts both soil and water and contributes air pollutants. If less individuals are on the roads, we could see less fatalities and less harm to the environment, thus potentially re-configuring these alarming statistics.

Another factor that impacts the economy is the financial independence one could gain from using autonomous cars. Companies have come up with the idea to drastically reduce car ownership in favor of a sort of taxi service. Using it as often as needed, whether to get to work or go on holiday, the cost would be built into an as-needed basis more than anything. Today, cars are parked almost 95 percent of the time. It is an argument much like cord cutters have made; why pay for something that you hardly use? If we eliminate or greatly lower the number of cars parked in driveways or garages, it not only can potentially allow you to keep more of your hard earned money in your pocket, but it can also reduce environmental impact. A win-win.

The Not So Good

For every one good, there are certainly a few not so goods. To piggyback on the argument that self driving cars could virtually eliminate car ownership, some would argue that it would in fact increase our trips overall. Ann Schlenker of Argonne National Laboratory located in Illinois studies the environmental impact of self driving vehicles. Working closely with the Department of Energy to develop solid facts about self driving vehicles and their place in our fast growing economy, Schlenker made a unique observation about how taking for granted autonomous cars can have a harmful impact on the environment. “Rather than a 30-minute commute, now you’re willing to entertain a 60-minute commute to get cheaper housing because [you] can be productive while the car takes [you] into the office.”

Our undying marriage to convenience could get the best of us. Thanks to the seamless ease of technology, “convenience” has long been taken for granted. We thrive on it, we develop more tactful ways to make both our lives and our futures convenient. But, in this quest for convenience, we may in fact cause more harm than good.

If more trips are taken, then this can only mean one thing: the total number of miles driven will likely increase. More trips results in more miles. More miles result in more carbon emissions. Unless all autonomous cars are electrical, the benefits won’t necessarily outweigh the problems. Researchers will continue their efforts to understand the long term impact of self driving vehicles on the environment. While the future is here, we still have the power to reshape it.

Rate this article:
No rating
Comments ()Number of views (151)

Author: AThompson

Categories: Blogs, Transportation, Technology



Search Jobs


«February 2018»

Gorillas React to Their Own Reflections

Watch this footage captured in the heart of the jungle of a group of gorillas catching glimpse of their own reflections for the first time. 

Read more

A Bright Future for Renewables

While going with renewables used to be primarily an environmental decision, a new report shows that these energy sources may be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020.

Read more

The World's Largest Underwater Cave

The world's largest underwater cave system has just been discovered in the depths of Tulum, Mexico. It stretches over 215 miles beneath the Earth's surface.

Read more

Is Air Pollution Linked to A Crime Hike?

We all know that air pollution can cause pretty serious effects on the environment. But a new study shows that dirty air might also lead to increased crime as well.

Read more

Dangerous Seduction: The Mating of the Tarantula

In nature, the art of seduction is not only essential to pass on genes, it can also be deadly when carried out incorrectly. Watch as the tarantula walks this fine line. 

Read more

A Baby Squirrel’s Happy Ending

Nothing rekindles your faith in humanity quite like seeing a hurt animal nursed back to health by someone. That's exactly what happens in this adorable video. 

Read more

Fracking: A Detailed Look

Though fracking has been around for decades, recent years has seen a sharp increase in its prevalence. But how safe is this drilling tactic anyway?

Read more

The First Monkey Clones

Cloning has long been considered to be one of the most logistically and ethically complicated subjects among scientists and bioethicists. And with the very first successful cloning of two monkeys, things just got a bit more complicated.

Read more

What Makes A City Eco-Friendly?

One of the biggest trends today is that people are flocking to cities more frequently than ever before. But with all this added population burden, how are cities staying green today?

Read more

Snow Monkey Spa

Monkeys really are a lot like humans in so many ways. And this video of the famous hot spring macaques shows just that. What a wonderful way to warm up!

Read more

Incredible Animal Encounters

Sometimes we all need a reminder of how humans and animals are inextricably connected. This video from The Dodo shows five incredible animal encounters (from gorillas and hummingbirds to turtles, magpies, and seals) that will help restore your link to the animal world.

Read more

Environmental Impacts of Self-Driving Vehicles

How will driverless cars impact the environment? It's an important question that researchers are asking themselves. From reduced CO2 from less cars on the road to health benefits and fewer scrapped vehicles, this futuristic new development just might end up changing the world.

Read more

You Basic Guide To Green Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning is right around the corner! Now's the time to really dig into all those cleaning jobs you've been putting off all year and to make a fresh start. But don't be fooled - you don't have to use highly toxic chemicals to get the job done. Here are a few of our favorite green spring cleaning tips. 

Read more

Can The World Depend on Renewable Energy?

A fully renewable energy plan has long been the dream of future-thinkers and environmentalists. But how realistic is this goal anyway? This video from TED-Ed dives into this question and gets to the bottom of what a fully renewable energy plan has to offer. 

Read more

Oil Tanker Spill in China

Just last January, an enormous Chinese oil tanker collided with a freight ship in the East China Sea, unleashing 150 thousand tons of condensate oil, an incredibly toxic and particularly devastating type of oil. This National Geographic video covers the story. 

Read more

Rescues At Sea

Sometimes you just need a little reminder that humans and animals can in fact coexist. This video from The Dodo shows three acts of human kindness featuring different creatures from the sea. It's a heartwarming way to start the week!

Read more

Is Your Diet BPA-Free?

BPA is an incredibly common chemical compound found in many food packaging components today. However, it can also be incredibly dangerous in terms of how it impacts your overall health. Research has shown that more of this dangerous chemical is getting into our bodies than we think.

Read more

Ozone Depletion: A Detailed Look

The holes in the ozone are a direct impact of manmade pollution and environmental irresponsibility. But how does the process actually work? This detailed look at what ozone depletion is shows you just that.

Read more

Is Urban Farming The Answer to Food Security?

As our world's population continues to skyrocket at an unprecedented pace, city dwellers are starting to contribute to the global food stores through what's known as "urban farming." Here's what  to know about this exciting trend and how you can get started.

Read more

Black Beauty Stick Insects

Have a look at this strikingly beautiful stick insect found only in the mountains of Peru. This rare and unusual creature is only found in a tiny 12-acre area and is one little insect you won't soon forget.

Read more


    Help Us Go Green
    Help Us Go Green