Self-driving cars are not a distant dream. And as the technology advances, regulatory agencies are focused on making sure the vehicles are safe before they hit the market.

Road photo

But Amanda Eaken of the Natural Resources Defense Council says they need to do more.

Eaken: “I think we now need to evolve the conversation beyond just the safety aspects to consider the potential environmental impacts.”

Eaken says studies show self-driving cars could double transportation-related energy use … or slash it by up to 90 percent.

It all depends on how the cars are used. Will they be part of shared networks of on-demand electric vehicles? Or will more people buy their own cars?

And if people can work while commuting, will they move farther away from their jobs, increasing sprawl? How will it affect public transportation?

Amanda Eaken
Amanda Eaken

So Eaken says policies are needed to push the trend in a positive direction – for example, state-by-state carbon reduction targets for transportation.

She hopes government agencies will work together to assess the possible impacts of car sharing and self-driving technology on energy consumption.

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Eaken: “And then put forth some policy recommendations to bend the arc of this mobility sector innovation in the direction of the public good.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Road photo: Copyright protected.

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...