The future of driverless cars: is it eco-friendly?

by aderoos on November 25, 2016 - 3:54pm


            The age of driverless cars is closer than many of us think. Companies like Tesla and Google believe that self-driving cars will be incorporated into society by 2018, by first investing into the taxi industry. Innovative revolutions such as this have numerous stakeholders and actors to ensure society grows in the right way. Car manufacturers, drivers, and governments all have vested interest. Along with this transition comes many socio-economic impacts, but none may be as tricky as the environmental aspect. Jason Bordoff, a former energy advisor to President Obama, outlines the potential risks and rewards to a self-driving car era. On one side, fuel efficiency will be improved. The human error of stopping and starting will be conquered, as a Goldman Sachs study suggests driverless cars could improve fuel efficiency by more than 30%. But what if this enhanced driving experience results in a greater number of cars on the road? Why pay for public transit or carpool, when you are already saving money on gas from the increased fuel efficiency and can allocate time to work or watch TV in your own car? Increased individual driving could be the trend that trumps all other environmental impacts.

            What I believe this problem lacks is government oversight. When driverless cars implode into the mainstream market, the environmental impacts are uncertain. Active adaptive management would be an appropriate measure for the Government of Canada to peruse. Perhaps to create a law that bans and enforces people from being the computer or other sorts of tasks that couldn’t be done while driving, to discourage individual driving. Or only allowing self-driving features on highways, to keep local public transit users or carpoolers from relying on their driverless vehicle. But whatever policies are implemented, the government should collect data, and learn from these policies. Did they effect the number of self-driving cars on the road? There is strong value conflict in this debate, in terms of letting market innovations make its way into society.

Some will argue that the government shouldn’t be getting involved matters that enhance a product used daily by many Canadians, and that environmental laws shouldn’t stand in the way of new technology. Especially since there is no real proof that there will be a negative net result from driverless cars, and electric cars are becoming more affordable. What I would argue is in this age of access personal consumption, it’s worth the risk to try and influence consumption rates by interrupting technological advances. In North America, we consume more ‘stuff’ per person than anywhere on the planet. Not everyone needs to drive by themselves all the time, and sometimes government regulations can encourage us to remember that. The deregulation Canada has seen in recent years has caused us to become the consumer-driven society we are today, and its time be take some strides in the opposite direction when we evaluate future technological use. The problem is the future is not far away anymore.