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Will Self-Driving Cars Mean Serious Cuts in Air Pollution?

The concept of self-driving cars is no longer futuristic; it’s making its way into the mainstream. According to IHS Automotive, 21 million self-driving cars will be sold globally in the year 2035. However, that doesn’t mean self-driving cars aren’t quickly coming to the market. The IHS Automotive forecast also shows 76 million self-driving cars will be sold globally through the year 2035.

There are already cars on the road with driverless features like with the Jeep Cherokee or Mercedes Benz S-Class sending vibrations to your steering wheel to alert drivers that they may be drifting across lanes. BMW features a Traffic Jam Assistant can take control to glide alongside other vehicles at speeds up to 37 mph while automatically maintaining the distance of your choice from vehicles ahead of it.

While we already know self-driving cars can reduce the headaches of traffic, it can also make an impact on air pollution. Will self-driving cars actually improve our air quality? Here’s a look at what to expect.

Reduce Fuel Consumption

Traffic congestion and stop and go traffic can harm our environment and reduce our air quality. According to the report, “An Analysis of Possible Energy Impacts of Automated Vehicle,” vehicle automation could deliver up to 15 percent in fuel savings by avoiding traffic issues like idling and excessive stop and go driving. Research from Goldman Sachs also found driverless cars could improve U.S. fuel efficiency by over 30 percent. Over time, we could see a dramatic reduction in fuel-related air pollution simply by adapting to driverless cars.

Rare Car Accidents

Safety is a focal point of the driverless car industry. In a world with connected cars, it could actually be dangerous for humans operating vehicles since vehicles would be completely synced and theoretically no longer need to come to a complete stop. Will this be the last generation of kids who need to study for their driving test? Will the steering wheel become a relic?

It’s not just about human error and car accidents. Air pollution is also linked to car crashes. According to the London School of Economics, air pollution is actually causing an increase in traffic accidents. Researchers determined a rise in the average concentration of nitrogen oxide can raise the number of average accidents to 2 percent.

The Use of Smart Tires

The pressure in your tires could be adding to air pollution. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, about 40 percent of the 5 million cars on Minnesota roads don’t have properly inflated tires and are spewing out 306,000 extra tons of carbon dioxide per year because their tires are underinflated.

Driverless cars will rely on smart tires to help enhance their performance on the road and help transmit information about the roadway and keep themselves properly inflated without intervention. Forbes reported that Goodyear already unveiled two concepts with spherical-shaped tires to help cars move in all directions to maintain safety and park in tight environments. The tires are said to use a magnetic levitation system to slightly suspend the vehicle off the pavement for an even smoother ride.

Possible Increased Travel

Despite all of the benefits of driverless cars, there is a way they could negatively impact the environment. As travel becomes safer and easier, it’s more likely that more people will travel and do so more frequently. Despite the polluting saving efforts of driverless cars, a spike in transit could possibly outweigh the benefits.

Experts warn there’s really no way to know for sure how much driverless cars will pollute, and not to assume they will be a catch all to fix the air quality. At the end of the day, the world is still waiting to see how the driverless car industry and its impact on the environment will unfold.

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