Image Credit: Shutterstock/Andrey_Popov
With titans like Google, Tesla and Uber investing in the technology, self-driving cars are no longer sci-fi fantasy. While there are many obvious advantages to self-driving cars, the environmental benefits have caused excitement to many scientists and environmentalists.
In a 2014 report by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America predicts that autonomous vehicles can reduce oil consumption by 2-4% over the next ten years as intelligent transport systems start to flood the market.
Matthew Stepp, an Executive Director of the Center for Clean Energy Innovation at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation spoke about the report before its release;
I think what's special about this report is that it is the first time anybody sat down to try to put real sustainability benefit numbers to these technologies. For the last few years, the auto industry and environmental advocates have said these smart transportation technologies will have first- and second-order benefits that will reduce carbon and make cars more efficient, but no one put pen to paper to calculate the benefits.
Eco-Friendly Transport Technology
The study quantified the fuel consumption reductions using sixteen areas of eco-friendly transport technology. These included adaptive cruise control, eco-navigation and wireless communications. It is thought that these technologies will advance further and allow efficiency improvement of existing infrastructure, like traffic light synchronization.
In addition to this, the study also looked at fuel savings by using alternative energy, such as electric cars in order to calculate the expected oil reductions over the next decade.
At the end of the day, what's going to truly decarbonize the transportation system is when we move to low-carbon fuel or completely battery-powered vehicles, which will take decades to see widespread adoption. What the smart transportation technologies allow is to bend the carbon curve down in the intermediate time frame." 
Reducing Emissions with Self-Driving Cars
It has always been a concern for environmentalists that due to the convenience of self-driving vehicles, more consumers would be encouraged to use private transport over public alternatives. It could also increase how far people travel using personal vehicles and therefore create more pollution.
In order to circumvent this, it is clear that policies must be put in place to guarantee that autonomous vehicles are clean and low carbon. This will involve using plug-in electric cars or hybrids.
It has also been suggested that taxi-like services such as Uber or Lyft should be incentivized in order to prevent trips with no passengers that could have a negative effect on the environment.
Another way to reduce emissions from autonomous vehicles is to enable more efficient driving patterns. By limiting human interaction with driving, it would reduce repeated braking and acceleration and even allow vehicles to travel closer together which is known to improve aerodynamics. 
Furthermore, self-driving cars mean that there will be fewer cars per household due to the fact that one car can now fit the needs of each person. Families can be taken to school, then work and then park itself before it is time to be collected. This will obviously reduce the overall number of cars on the road and therefore reduce carbon emissions from unnecessary travel.
Autonomous vehicles are an interesting advancement in the field of green transport. This innovative technology will allow consumers to reduce carbon emissions while also maximizing the time they have in the day.
- Andrew, I. (2017, August 31). The Environmental Benefits of Driverless Cars. Retrieved from greenerideal.com: https://greenerideal.com/news/vehicles/driverless-cars-environmental-benefits/
- Pyper, J. (2014). Self-Driving Cars Could Cut Greenhouse Gas Pollution. ClimateWire.
- Union of Concerned Scientists. (2017). Maximizing the Benefits of Self Driving Vehicles. Retrieved from UCSUSA.org: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/principles-self-driving-cars#.Wsc87IjwY2w