Self-driving cars technology has been elusively at the horizon for years. Bold predictions aside, fully automated vehicles still haven’t appeared in showrooms. The technology is poised to take a leap forward in 2022.
Companies, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW Honda, are bringing so-called Level 3 AVs to market, which will let drivers take their hands off the wheel under specific conditions—and virtually every major auto manufacturer is testing self-driving systems.
Automated vehicles have great potential. Vehicles that can be automated You can handle most, if not all, of the driving tasks could be safer than human drivers, operate more efficiently, and open up new opportunities for seniors, people with disabilities, and others who can’t drive themselves. While attention is understandable, Safety firstThe potential environmental effects of automated vehicles have been largely ignored.
We study Automated vehicle technology How consumers are likely to use them. Our research teams discovered two innovative ways to assess the real-life effects that automated vehicles could have upon the environment in two recent studies.
By analyzing drivers’ use of partially automated vehicles and simulating the expected impact of future driverless vehicles, we found that both automated vehicle types will encourage a lot more driving. This will increase transportation-related pollution and traffic congestion, unless regulators take steps to make car travel less appealing.
More miles equals more carbon emissions
Research has shown that automated vehicles could make people drive more than they do now, according to previous research. More congestion, increased energy consumption, and greater pollution. It is much easier to ride in a car as a passenger than driving. This means that people may be more willing and able to take longer trips and fight more traffic if there are other activities they can do during the trip. People could move further away from their jobs if they have a comfortable commute to work. This could help accelerate the growth of suburban sprawl.
People would also have the ability to send their cars on “zero-occupancy” trips, or errands without passengers. For example, if you don’t want to pay for parking downtown, at some point you may be able to send your car back home while you’re at work and summon it when you need it. It’s convenient, but it also doubles the driving.
Autopilot users drove an average of 3.2 miles per hour, according to our research. nearly 5,000 miles more per year than those who didn’t. Interviews with 36 partially-automated vehicle drivers revealed that they were more willing and able to drive long distances, as well as being more willing to wait in traffic. Increased comfort and lower stressSemi-automated systems provide this service.
In a separate study, we also simulated the operation of a fully-automated vehicle by providing 43 households with a chauffeur service in Sacramento, California to take over driving duties. We also tracked how they used the vehicle. These households Their vehicle miles traveled increased by 60%They travelled more than they did before the chauffeur and significantly reduced their use for transit, bicycling and walking. More than half of the rise in vehicle travel was caused by chauffeurs traveling on zero-occupancy (i.e. Without a household member in the vehicle.
Automatic car use is a way to reduce pollution
These findings indicate that automated vehicles will encourage more driving in future, and that some partially automated vehicles are already doing so. Is there a way to reap the benefits of automated vehicles without making congestion, climate change, and air quality worse?
Future automated vehicles should use zero-emission technology As California is doingThis could be a great help. However, until the U.S. develops, a 100% carbon-free electricity systemEven electric cars will emit some upstream emissions due to power generation. All car travel is harmful Other adverse effectsWater and air pollution, such as tire and brake wear, collisions and wildlife encounters, and traffic congestion.
To prevent an explosion of driving and associated harms, regulators and communities need to send signals that driving isn’t free. They could do this by putting a price on car travel—particularly on zero-occupancy trips.
The most important policies that have this effect are currently Federal and state fuel taxesCurrent average fuel prices are around 49 cents per gal for gasoline and 55 Cents for diesel fuel. But the impact of fuel taxes on drivers’ behavior will decline with the adoption and spread of electric vehicles. This means that transportation will need to find new funding mechanisms to cover ongoing costs such as maintaining roads.
Instead of fuel taxes, the federal and state governments could impose user fees or charges for how many miles drivers drive. Correctly pricing private vehicle travel costs could encourage travelers to use less expensive and more efficient modes of transportation, such as walking, biking, and public transit.
These fees could be adjusted based on location—for example, charging more to drive into dense city centers—or other factors, such as time of day, traffic congestion levels, vehicle occupancy, and vehicle type. Modern communication technologies allow for such policies by tracking the location and time of cars on the roads.
Another option is to promote shared vehicles and not private-owned ones. These vehicles can be seen as commercial companies, similar in concept to Uber, Lyft, or other ride-sharing providers. It could be possible to have a car on demand and serve travel demand more efficiently. These networks could also be used to help riders access fixed-route public transport services that operate along main transportation corridors.
These policies will be most effective when they are implemented now before automated vehicles become widespread. A transportation future that is automated, electric, and shared could be environmentally sustainable—but in our view, it’s unlikely to evolve that way on its own.
Giovanni CircellaDirector of 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program at The University of California, Davis Scott HardmanA professional researcher in the Plug In Hybrid & Electrical Vehicle Research Center at The University of California, Davis