Cars as we know them simply aren’t great for the environment. As we slowly steer towards a future with a substantial number of driverless cars on the road, some researchers say it is about time to consider some of the impacts flocks of new autonomous vehicles could have on the environment.
In a new study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin Madison asked over 800 local residents in the Madison metropolitan area to assess their attitudes towards using autonomous vehicles in the future and found that study respondents would be interested in using a driverless car about 31 percent of the time, a significant chunk more than taking the bus. Wissam Kontar, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin Madison and lead study author, says that with growing popularity and industry investment in autonomous vehicles, that this “excitement” may be “overshadowing potential environmental impacts.”
Previous research on the environmental impact of autonomous vehicles shows that there are a number of potential positive and negative energy tradeoffs from autonomous vehicles, making for a very uncertain future. While automation could make driving more energy-efficient, a single autonomous vehicle can’t transport as many people as the bus or subway. But since they could make it super easy to get from point A to point B without bumping elbows with other public transportation users, that could mean more people on the road. More cars on the road means more energy use and traffic congestion in the short term–especially with a mix of autonomous and regular cars speeding down the highway.