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.
– Hirsch, J. (2016), Daimler tests self driving truck platoon in live traffic, Trucks. Accessed at: (https://www.trucks.com/2016/03/21/daimler-tests-self-driving-truck-platoon-in-live-traffic/
– Stayton, E. (2015), Driverless Dreams: Technological Narratives and the Shape of the Automated Car, Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing. Accessed at: http://www.estayton.com/Stayton_DriverlessDreams_May5_2015.pdf
– Wadud, Z. (2016), Will self driving cars reduce energy use and make travel better for the environment?, The Conversation. Accessed at: http://theconversation.com/will-self-driving-cars-reduce-energy-use-and-make-travel-better-for-the-environment-55363
– Wang, U. (2015), Are self driving vehicles good for the environment?, Ensia. Accessed at: http://ensia.com/features/are-self-driving-vehicles-good-for-the-environment/