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So far, researchers have drawn contradictory or uncertain conclusions about the aggregate effects of automation on VMT. In an AV, an individual can engage in other activities—such as checking email or reading—while the car maneuvers itself and therefore does not have to give up that time. As a result, people may choose to live farther away from their workplaces or take vehicle trips they otherwise would have avoided due to the opportunity cost. In addition, automation could put entirely new classes of drivers on the road.

In , the Eno Center for Transportation examined the impacts of deploying fully autonomous vehicles and vehicles equipped with vehicle-to-everything technology.


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One important gap in this research is the quantification of impacts. In its analysis, Eno did not attempt to quantify or assign monetary value to the predicted impacts. The magnitude of the effects on the environment would depend on how much additional VMT is induced. Eno concluded that travel demand could increase with automation, as AVs could facilitate personal mobility for those who cannot drive on their own—the elderly, the young, and people with disabilities.

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From a number-of-cars-on-the-road perspective, not so great. Some experts see ride-sharing—when at least two passengers ride together in a vehicle—and car-sharing—when drivers pay a fee to use a car for a set time—as a potential antidote to rising VMT from automation. Essentially, the number of eligible drivers may increase, but the way Americans transport themselves will change as well. Individual car ownership will likely give way to on-demand ride-sharing and car-sharing powered by AV technology.

They concluded that fully autonomous vehicles incorporated into ride- and car-sharing programs—known as shared autonomous vehicles—could reduce the number of vehicles on the road 80 percent while still getting every passenger to where they need to be, when they need to be there. The University of Texas at Austin partnered with the University of Utah to study the potential benefits of shared autonomous vehicles, even at low levels of market penetration.

The researchers simulated a fleet of shared autonomous vehicles operating in Austin, Texas, that combined on-demand services such as UberPool with full automation. They also created algorithms to ensure efficient pickups and drop-offs. Under these circumstances, one shared autonomous vehicle replaced 9. It remains unclear whether transitioning to a shared autonomous light-vehicle transportation system would fully offset any increase in VMT from adding new drivers and demand. While the number of vehicles on the road could decline, overall distance traveled by the autonomous vehicles on the road could increase.

Research by David Levinson predicts an initial VMT increase from deadheading, although he suggests that a shared AV system and logistical planning can minimize the passengerless miles. In January , Google reported that each of its self-driving test vehicles was driving, on average, 10, autonomous miles to 15, autonomous miles per week on public streets. Since , the cars had cumulatively driven nearly 1 million miles in manual mode and more than 1.

Related to the issue of travel demand and VMT is traffic congestion. A car driving through heavy traffic uses more fuel and emits more pollutants than a car moving smoothly through an uncongested area over the same distance. Congestion, therefore, is more than a quality-of-life issue for drivers; it is an environmental and climate issue as well.

Researchers have identified two primary ways that AV technology could help reduce congestion—and therefore vehicle emissions—in cities and on highways: by making driving patterns more efficient and by averting crashes that cause severe traffic jams. Uncertainty remains, however.

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The potential benefits depend in part on the level of fleetwide automation achieved and whether the vehicles are able to communicate with each other and their surrounding infrastructure. As described above, RAND concluded that AVs might lead to more vehicles on the road in some areas as the opportunity cost of driving falls. This could increase congestion. RAND also found, however, that AV technology could help to avoid inefficient driving conditions, such as abrupt stops and starts common in heavy traffic.

Even at higher speeds on highways, dramatic braking and other human reactions can cause congestion. Without these reactions, cars could travel close together safely. In essence, more cars could get through the same limited number of lanes more easily with automation technology, reducing congestion and streamlining the overall driving process. Volvo researchers conducting a study in Sweden also found that automation could allow cars to travel more closely to each other at high speeds without compromising safety, thereby reducing congestion. For the past few years, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has also been looking into the effects of automation on congestion—and the potential positive impact on reducing emissions.

As of , researchers at Oak Ridge were developing algorithms for communication among autonomous vehicles. Some stakeholders warn that the congestion benefits of AVs are unlikely to occur in the short term. In the next five years, some areas might experience less congestion as AVs trickle onto the roads, but then congestion would actually increase as more AVs mix in heavily with traditional vehicles.

It is not until AVs saturate the market—likely 20 years to 50 years from now—that congestion would ease significantly. Researchers from the Eno Center for Transportation have found that AV technology could reduce fuel consumption in the transportation sector by smoothing out driving patterns and minimizing braking.


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Until a large percentage of the vehicles on the road are autonomous, U. The authors cite another study finding that with a 20 percent reduction in accelerations and decelerations, cars would consume 5 percent less fuel. Zia Wadud, Don MacKenzie, and Paul Leiby have summarized existing research studies on efficient driving and fuel consumption. One study concluded that if a gasoline-powered engine was operating at its most efficient point, helped by eco-driving programming that minimizes braking, an AV could reduce fuel consumption 35 percent to 50 percent in heavily congested driving conditions, although such congestion is only occasionally found in the real world.

Wadud, MacKenzie, and Leiby also looked at studies on highway platooning, in which vehicles follow each other closely on the highway, thereby decreasing the air resistance for cars following the leader. They estimated that universal adoption of platooning for light-duty vehicles—an ambitious assumption—could reduce the energy intensity of vehicles 3 percent to 25 percent. If all heavy-duty trucks platooned, a feature that automated technology could facilitate, their energy intensity would drop 10 percent to 25 percent. Factors such as the saturation of AVs on the road and the ratio of heavy-duty trucks to light-duty vehicles could influence the impacts on fuel economy.

Researchers from Volvo published their own analysis of the effects of automated features such as platooning and adaptive cruise control, which automatically adjusts the distance between cars when driving. The authors cite a study by the European Field Operational Test, known as euroFOT, a project gathering data about intelligent transportation, which found that if every vehicle in the European Union used adaptive cruise control, it would save nearly million liters of fuel each year and prevent 1.

Despite these potential fuel reduction benefits, Wadud, MacKenzie, and Leiby warn that automation technology could increase the energy intensity of vehicles on the road if it encourages driving at higher speeds on the highway. Policymakers may decide to lift highway speed limits if they no longer have to factor in the human element to determine a safe speed. Highway travel accounts for 33 percent to 55 percent of all road travel; consequently, faster highway speeds could increase energy intensity 7 percent to 22 percent for all light-duty vehicles.

Notably, concerns about fuel consumption are moot if autonomous vehicles on the road are electric vehicles. Wadud, MacKenzie, and Leiby suggest that automation technology could encourage the deployment of electric vehicles by eliminating an important barrier to electric vehicle adoption—the anxiety about widespread availability of refueling infrastructure. Fully autonomous vehicles could travel to fueling stations to fuel up on their own.

The UT Austin study offers a different perspective on fuel consumption and related emissions. Shared AVs in a connected system would be in near-constant motion, picking up and dropping off multiple passengers throughout the day, so the engine would stay warm. Each shared AV would require fewer cold starts, or times when the engine starts after remaining idle for an hour or more. Emissions are higher when the engine is cold than when the catalytic converter has warmed up, so keeping the engine warm would reduce emissions.

Some automakers have argued that even low-level AV technology achieves some of these fuel economy and emissions benefits. As a result, these automakers have requested that the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation offer them credits against fuel economy and greenhouse gas tailpipe standards, potentially allowing more tailpipe pollution.

See the text box for a discussion of these claims and why the agencies have not offered credits for AV technologies to date. These standards, which apply to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles, promised to deliver a fleetwide tailpipe emissions standard of grams of carbon dioxide per mile in model year , the equivalent of The EPA explained in detail why automakers installing certain crash avoidance technologies should not receive greenhouse gas credits:.

The automakers have continued to advocate for credits for advanced vehicle technologies. In , the U. Mitch Bainwol of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, testifying in support of the legislation, argued that cars equipped with crash avoidance mechanisms such as automatic braking, lane departure alerts, and adaptive cruise control—as well as vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies—should receive credits because they help reduce congestion and emissions from idling traffic. Automation technology could allow automakers to build lighter and more fuel-efficient cars.

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If the safety benefits of fully autonomous vehicles become a reality, automakers could remove some protective bulk from personal vehicles. This anticipated safety benefit, however, likely is dependent on widespread penetration of AVs into the vehicle market.

In their research, Wadud, MacKenzie, and Leiby found that the full benefits of right-sizing—or matching vehicle size to the number of passengers—could be best achieved through the sharing of AVs, where smaller groups or individuals can secure a ride in a smaller, more fuel-efficient car instead of riding alone in a larger, partially empty car. However, achieving these benefits assume that passenger travel is the only reason a person would use a car, ignoring the other reasons for car ownership, many of which increase vehicle weight, such as transporting cargo or carrying bicycles or skis.

If consumers desire additional features in their cars for comfort, these additional features could add some weight, resulting in increased fuel consumption. The Austin study found that right-sized fleet purchase decisions for vehicles in shared AV fleets could reduce fuel use and emissions, as many vehicles used for car-sharing would be smaller, compact passenger vehicles. If the primary method of mobility is moving toward AV fleets—shared or personally owned—the best way to minimize emissions from the transportation sector is to combine vehicle automation with electrification.

A recent report by Climate Action Tracker concludes that zero-emission vehicles must take over the global market by , coupled with reducing emissions from the power sector, in order to limit global warming to 1. While researchers are beginning to examine the potential environmental impacts of autonomous vehicle deployment, more research is needed to fully understand how automation of the light-duty vehicle sector will affect carbon emissions and the climate.

The Center for American Progress offers the following recommendations for additional research on vehicle-miles traveled, travel patterns, and gasoline use in AVs. Studies of environmental benefits often assume that every car is fully automated and shared and do not take into account a transition period in which humans still drive some of the vehicles on the road. A transportation system that is fully automated and dominated by car- and ride-sharing services is unlikely to occur for decades. Until that time, the number of vehicles and drivers on the road may increase along with emissions at precisely the time that the United States needs to be bending the emissions curve downward.

More research is needed to understand how AVs will fit within the whole transportation and infrastructure system. In particular, researchers should examine the relative benefits and costs of investment in AVs compared with similar investment in public transit—another option for reducing vehicles on the road and cutting emissions from the transportation sector. Automakers and tech companies are driving the transition to a transportation system reliant on autonomous vehicles, but it is unclear whether that is the most efficient choice from an emissions-reduction perspective.

Policymakers need a better understanding of how AVs and public transportation can work together to cut carbon pollution from light-duty vehicles and how policymakers should direct transportation investment in order to achieve the maximum environmental benefit. The existing research shows conflicting conclusions about whether AV deployment will reduce or induce travel demand.


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  4. The challenge lies in the number of assumptions that factor into whether AVs will be a net positive or detriment to the climate: whether AVs will add new classes of drivers to the road, remove cars from the road through car-sharing, encourage people to commute from farther distances, or make vehicle-based transportation more efficient.

    Researchers need to compile more information about how automation would affect the social cost of driving if the driver can do other things, such as work, while traveling and how that would change driver behavior and choices. Overall, researchers do not appear to have the analytical tools needed to model this complex array of assumptions and identify the range of potential outcomes.

    Experts should invest in new modeling capabilities to predict how these factors would interact; this would give policymakers a window into how to avoid potential pitfalls during the transition to an automated transportation system. Electrifying the autonomous vehicle fleet would alleviate concerns about new emissions from the transportation sector, assuming that the electricity sector continues to decarbonize. Electrification and automation of the transportation sector could require significant investment in infrastructure to support the new technologies.

    Further research should uncover what this infrastructure buildout would entail and how policymakers can ensure that it proceeds systematically and efficiently. Technological questions remain as well. For example, additional research may be necessary to examine how combining automation with electrification could affect vehicle performance, including battery life and driving range of EVs.

    No tangible insurance cost difference exists between a ticket for speeding 6 to 10 miles per hour versus 11 to 15 miles per hour over the limit. Because not all states participate or share information, the impact of an out of state ticket may vary, depending on where you receive your traffic ticket. Massachusetts , Michigan , Tennessee , and Georgia are not members. Other states, such as Colorado , Maryland , Nevada , New York , and Pennsylvania , will only share information for major convictions, such as a DUI or reckless driving charge. Aside from successfully contesting the ticket, your best bet for avoiding higher rates and saving money on car insurance is to shop around.

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    Like a ticket, you should expect an at-fault accident to impact your rates for 3 to 5 years. These coverages are not required by law and only act to protect the physical value of your vehicle. However, if your vehicle is not worth much, you could be paying for more insurance than you need. If you remove comprehensive and collision coverage, consider adding uninsured motorist coverage. Which will help protect you from uninsured drivers. Discounts are not going to be a big money saver in terms of car insurance, and you should not stay with your current insurer simply because they offer you a discount.

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