Self-Driving Culture

When it comes to self-driving cars, the regulation won’t be the only thing that needs to change if it becomes the norm. In fact, there will be a whole host of environmental, economic and even social factors that will go through a change. To explain these future possibilities, I’ll go into detail about each aspect and explain both the positive and negative outcomes that are likely to happen during a widespread adoption of the technology. I will first focus on how self-driving cars will affect the environment and will then look at economic and social changes in later posts.


Environmentally, self-driving cars will be an immense step further forward in limiting greenhouse gas emissions and also decreasing the amount of fuel we use every trip. With the invention of electric cars and the emphasis on eco-friendly vehicles, it’s clear that the world is looking for a solution to the vast amount of fossil fuels burnt every year. In the US, cars account “for 27 percent of the harmful gases emitted into the atmosphere” (Wang, 2015) and this number could easily be narrowed by the mass movement towards self-driving cars. One way this could happen would be through simple aerodynamics; when vehicles follow closely behind each other, there is less air resistance therefore fuel consumption is limited. According to Zia Wadud (2016), the total energy consumption can be cut down between 4% and 25% with this simple method and since self-driving cars constantly communicate as they travel, this would allow for safe transportation in these formations – unlike for humans for which it is called tailgating and is actually illegal. Daimler Trucks tested this platoon type formation using three big rigs on the autobahn and found that it not only reduced “fuel consumption by 7%” (Hursch, 2016), but it also meant they took up less road space. Keeping this in mind, automated vehicles would not only have a positive effect on car drivers, but on the truck industry as well.

As it turns out, humans are quite inefficient at driving because we tend to rapidly accelerate and brake unnecessarily – something as simple as cruise control helps maintain speed and can help drivers cut down on their fuel consumption. Self-driving cars have proven to be more eco-friendly and efficient than us humanoids and this is largely due to their ability to communicate with each other which eliminates excessive braking and accelerating. Ucilia Wang (2016) claims that “fuel efficiency could be boosted more than 30 percent” this way and the benefits go further since this would also “smooth out traffic flow” (Wadud, 2016). If the roads became 100% autonomous, the communication system could mean that there would no longer be a need for signs and traffic lights as each vehicle is programmed to follow certain rules on roads. Also, intersections could be regulated by a timer overseen through the communication system rather than spending money on building traffic lights.


Anyone who plans to drive into the city always falls into the same trap; congested roads, pedestrians crossing the road randomly and traffic lights that change far too quickly – a simple recipe for stress. On the other hand, autonomous vehicles will have the potential to minimize the amount of cars driving around in the city because rather than having a vast amount of individuals commuting to work every day, people can make use of car pooling and rent self-driving cars to take them to places without having to worry about expensive parking tickets or being late. These developments would be worth implementing “if self-driving vehicles have a high probability of effecting positive change on the cityscape” (Stayton, 2015) which at the moment seems to be the case. Here, autonomous cars would enable city-driving to become hassle-free and safer for pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers alike.

We’re already starting to see pieces of autonomous technology on the road from parking assists to cruise control and even automatic braking systems for some models. Once the technology has reached a point where it has been tried, tested, and proven to be a better driver than a human (which so far it has managed quite well), it is only logical to adopt it on a large scale as it will allow for safer roads and will also provide more leisure time for commuters – imagine playing your favourite video game on the road to work. With the changes that are imminent with the production of self-driving cars, the one thing that does need to happen is the creation of in-depth legislation dealing with the possibilities of the technology; this would certainly make it easier to implement the technology and would help avoid confusion when the time comes.

Reference List:
– Hirsch, J. (2016), Daimler tests self driving truck platoon in live traffic, Trucks. Accessed at: (
– Stayton, E. (2015), Driverless Dreams: Technological Narratives and the Shape of the Automated Car, Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing. Accessed at:
– Wadud, Z. (2016), Will self driving cars reduce energy use and make travel better for the environment?, The Conversation. Accessed at:
– Wang, U. (2015), Are self driving vehicles good for the environment?, Ensia. Accessed at:

7 thoughts on “Self-Driving Culture”

  1. So many trains of thought while reading this. It’s strange to think that one day driving might be solely recreational… for some countries anyway.
    I wonder how this progression would translate to long distance driving. I’m from Wagga Wagga and I’m just imagining how much more productive I could be if cars were to drive themselves – that’s 5 hours of study time or (more realistically) serious Netflix binge-time. I’d more than likely visit home a hell of a lot more because the drive itself is such a chunk out of the time I get there anyway.
    In terms of fuel usage, I assume that with the removal of human error in navigation it would dramatically reduce the wasted fuel (not to mention time) spent on getting lost. It might be worth checking out this website that breaks down how much energy you fuel distributes to different aspect of driving a car.
    Interesting read!


    1. Thanks for your thoughts and for the link! I would imagine long road trips being far more reasonable for people – I’d definitely enjoy a nice movie marathon on my way down the coast.


  2. It’s funny that you mentioned the need to make changes to road and traffic laws in the last paragraph because as soon as you mentioned “tailgating” I made a mental note to bring it up. It’s interesting that you mentioned it because it’s illegal for human beings to do, yet it is factored in to the ways in which self-driving cars are expected to operate and save on greenhouse emissions.

    Speaking of emissions, taking a step away from those produced directly from the cars themselves, I imagine that the more efficient and dynamic breaking systems in self-driving vehicles will mean less weathering on tyres and roads – which will mean reduced emissions in road maintenance and tyre manufacture.

    Additionally, are you aware of any work being done to make self-driving vehicles that don’t rely on fossil fuels at all? I’d be interested in looking at the new aesthetics of car and vehicle design in the face of automation. As you have probably noticed self-driving cars are being designed with a look that is largely familiar, but with a futuristic twist. It’d be cool to know how much of the design of these vehicles is functional compared to how much is purely decorative. If it IS mostly decorative, I wonder how these vehicles might look in the future as we distance ourselves from what we understand about how cars are “supposed to look”. The image at the top of this blog as well as the ones in your presentation got me thinking about this:


  3. I’m really interested to see your thoughts on the social shift driverless cars could initiate cause boy do i have thoughts on that one. The move to change to autonomous cars for environmental is a big tick, no one can argue with that; and would drastically reduce our carbon footprint. Ok, maybe not drastically because fossil fuels, but at least from a Size 9 footprint to a Size 8. Building on from Angus’ comment, driverless cars could also probably mean less road maintenance. Aside from the usual wear and tear, you won’t have hooligans doing burn outs or pot holes/ chunks of the road’s carved out from people taking speedbumps too fast (guilty). I’d like to hear more on your thoughts about what legislation’s would need to change. We can see the confusion there is now when a new technology is introduced and how slow the changes in legislation is as it tries to catch up. Perhaps being ahead of the curveball is what would prevent it.


  4. Your topic fascinates me to no end. It’s such a futuristic idea that’s actually in it’s early stages with development and testing and the fact that we’re even discussing it shows how likely an autonomous vehicle future is. It just makes so much logical sense to our current global issues – it’s much more environmentally friendly, will eventually be more cost efficient and not to mention more time efficient in today’s productivity-focused society. I think the main issue will be addressing people’s attitude to the idea of a car driving itself. Many people enjoy driving, and others may not enjoy it but would be reluctant to put their lives in the hands of an autonomous vehicle. Here’s a really interesting podcast that you might want to check out about the transitional period when something first goes automatic – how it’s disorienting. It freaks us out. Highly recommend listening to it!


  5. The idea of all roads consisting of completely driverless cars is so awesome. The environmental benefits is a huge advantage. I think an even bigger point is how driverless cars would pretty much completely eradicate injuries and deaths associated with driving because they would be perfect drivers! It is such a massive issue, one that will never be fully resolved if humans continue to be the drivers. Tougher road laws and improved roads will never be adequate enough to put an end to road deaths, but with self-driving cars that have A.I technology that makes them perfect drivers, the issue disappears!


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