Driverless cars, or autonomous vehicles, have been making headlines recently, as companies as diverse as Google, Tesla, GM, Lyft, and Uber are making big bets. These companies foresee a future with vehicles that can drive themselves, leaving the driver to do anything but drive. The autonomous capability could also allow people to summon vehicles that they “rent” like a Netflix subscription, instead of owning and parking for most the of the day.
We already see the technology introduced in Teslas and other vehicles, starting with smaller features like self-parking and automatic braking.
But as we move to a world of full autonomy, the future could either be very bright or very dark. On the bright side, a reduction in car ownership could lead to freed space for more housing and pedestrian spacing. Car accidents could be a thing of the past, while vehicles could be “right-sized” for each trip and more efficient and lighter without the need for safety features.
On the dark side, autonomy could lead to a significant uptick in driving miles, as well as more sprawl and congestion. This could lead to more pollution and loss of open space.
- Dorothy Glancy, J.D., Professor of Law at Santa Clara University
- Gerry Tierney, Associate Principal at Perkins + Will
- Susan Shaheen, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center and Adjunct Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley
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