An increasing number of people are starting to consider the potential downsides of a transition to autonomous cars. The FBI is already looking at them for the potential ill effects on law enforcement, and a scientist for Toyota is raising the possibility that driverless vehicles could actually be detrimental to the environment over the long term.

Ken Laberteaux, who studies future transportation for Toyota, thinks that autonomous cars could lead to more pollution, not less, says Bloomberg. However, Laberteaux's theory isn't so much based purely on science as it is considering behavioral and historical trends. "US history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live further from things," said Laberteaux during a presentation at the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, CA, cited by Bloomberg.

Laberteaux's belief is that if commuters can make their drives easier, then they will be more willing to live farther away from the cities where they work. The end result would be more urban sprawl and increased pollution from the longer travel times.

The hypothesis is completely the opposite of how we generally think about autonomous vehicles, with some experiments showing fuel economy improvements by as much as 20 percent. However, Laberteaux is looking beyond one-off observations and extrapolating further. With the law still figuring out how to get driverless cars on the road, we're probably still decades from finding out what effects they will actually have on the world.


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  • 75 Comments
      Ryan
      • 5 Months Ago
      It would lead to more people using these cars for long overnight trips. It is 12 hours to get to the beach from my house. Easy if I leave at 8pm and have this car take me overnight and back home on Sunday night. Hard to get to if I have to drive all day Saturday, just to drive back on Sunday. The thing is, that the car would be able to drive 55mph and conserve fuel that way.
        kent
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Ryan
        Maybe. But its still a car (small padded metal box with windows). Not the best sleeper.
          samcrut
          • 5 Months Ago
          @kent
          Who says the car has to be as uncomfortable as what we drive in today? If overnight driving catches on, nothing says the seats couldn't lay flat and turn into a bed like a first class airplane seat. Maybe an adjustable bed in some models.
      Onikoroshi
      • 5 Months Ago
      This will only increase fuel use if all the autonomous cars are ICE. However, when using autonomous cars, it'll be easier to have taxi-like services, which is ideal for electric cars because the cars can go pick people up, return to base, and recharge. This could actually end up *reducing* gasoline use.
      futurecars
      • 5 Months Ago
      the cars i see with these system or ev or hybrid, plus the system can only go at a set speed, which should be efficient.
      Dan Giles
      • 5 Months Ago
      I think autonomous cars are going to have limited performance capabilities, at least as compared to the average car today. these limitations will help to reduce the fuel consumption and at least mitigate the further distances traveled.
      pete
      • 5 Months Ago
      Why take an autonomous car when you could take public transportation?
        Larry Litmanen
        • 5 Months Ago
        @pete
        OK, i live in NYC by the way. Say i want to go to a supermarket, do you assume the train is RIGHT next to my house? No it is 15 minutes away, there i have to wait 15-20 minutes until it arrives, assuming it is only one train without transfers it can take 20 minutes. The supermarket is not next to the train, so i have to walk 15 minutes, after that i have to walk back to the train with 10 bags, wait for the train, stand on the train with bags and walk back home with these bags.........................or i can take a car. Now i want to know in what grade did you drop out from HS?
        turbomonkey2k
        • 5 Months Ago
        @pete
        I've never found any public transit that is going to a place I wish to be.
          Zoom
          • 5 Months Ago
          @turbomonkey2k
          I find it all the time.
      dukeisduke
      • 5 Months Ago
      If you buy one of those Google cars, be ready to turn in your man card.
        Larry Litmanen
        • 5 Months Ago
        @dukeisduke
        So i guess you fly your own airplane?
          Julio B
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Larry Litmanen
          No, it looks like his manhood is inversely proportional to the size of his vehicle... Why else would a vehicle shape or size matter so much to a man? over-compensate much?
          Zoom
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Larry Litmanen
          Butchers his own steer too for dinner.
      Julio B
      • 5 Months Ago
      "Laberteaux's belief is that if commuters can make their drives easier, then they will be more willing to live farther away from the cities where they work. The end result would be more urban sprawl and increased pollution from the longer travel times." Therefore reducing pollution in the city. Don't see the problem there. Also historically, cars have become cleaner and more efficient as time passes.
      KEVIN
      • 5 Months Ago
      As we all know car is pollutant. If we want to reduce pollution, stop driving and start riding bicycle or walk. Also good for your health. Car is used for convenience. And autonomous car gives even more convenience. Yes, I agree people will commute longer. Not only that, people may use car unnecessary. For example rather than parking my car at airport, I will make car drop me off and pick me up when I come back. That should not hold us back from going in future. Who knows once we are detached from car (a personal transportation), we may look car as taxi cab only. And there will be less cars and use efficient route. Possibilities are endless.
        DRAGON
        • 5 Months Ago
        @KEVIN
        And how am I supposed to ride a bike to my work place 30 miles distant from where I live huh?
          Ryan
          • 5 Months Ago
          @DRAGON
          Pedal more. Work less. Move closer. Or find a new job. It is only an hour and a half bicycle commute to go 30 miles each way. It would be good for you.
          KEVIN
          • 5 Months Ago
          @DRAGON
          Dragon, that's exactly my point. You are not willing to give up car because it's convenient to you. If autonomous car make even more convenient, 'why are we questioning ???'. If pollution is concern to Toyota executive, why Toyota is in car manufacturing business???.
          Zoom
          • 5 Months Ago
          @DRAGON
          How is he supposed to eat his Whopper on the bike? Come on.
          DRAGON
          • 5 Months Ago
          @DRAGON
          In the area where my job is houses or condos are 3 times more expensive than where I live. Also, while my work commute is 30 miles to the North, my wife's commute to her work is 20 miles to the South of our house, AND the public transportation is almost inexistent in our area (Los Angeles). What are we supposed to do? Get a divorce and move to a shed by our respective workplaces?
        Julio B
        • 5 Months Ago
        @KEVIN
        Then the city can replant all those unused parking spots with trees that would help clean the air.
        jmallx
        • 5 Months Ago
        @KEVIN
        What about in the winter time. This winter (an abnormality) it hit 40 below here in Michigan.
          Zoom
          • 5 Months Ago
          @jmallx
          Minneapolis has an active year-round cycling community.
      vassyg16
      • 5 Months Ago
      "Cars that drive themselves were invented ages ago. They're called taxis." -James May.
        turbomonkey2k
        • 5 Months Ago
        @vassyg16
        Yeah, but the meat-engine that powers the autonomous system in a taxi requires a lot more upkeep than Google's solution.
        Larry Litmanen
        • 5 Months Ago
        @vassyg16
        I think you miss the point, self driving cars eliminate the biggest cost a taxi has..THE DRIVER. If a taxi had no driver the cost per ride would be like 50% lower, plus no one wants to deal with these people and they overcharge for a long drive. I drive to Costco once a week, taxi wants $50 one way.
      jphyundai
      • 5 Months Ago
      Place a pile of bricks on the seat, dial in the destination, get out, then send this thing over a cliff, collect the insurance and buy a Real car.
        • 5 Months Ago
        @jphyundai
        Your claim will be denied and you'll face charges for insurance fraud. These will be ringed with every camera and sensor they can fit in it, and the NSA will make sure every single one is working just fine.
      Larry Litmanen
      • 5 Months Ago
      If cars are self driving and avoid making mistakes humans do, can you imagine that one day they will be able to drive like 200 MPH in the left lane. That would be amazing.
        superchan7
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Larry Litmanen
        All lanes. With autonomous cars nobody would be travelling faster than anyone else.
      JonZeke
      • 5 Months Ago
      "Autonomous" cars under this study are presumed to be somewhat fuel powered. What about a system where driverless cars are electric, and the local electric grid is predominantly renewables? I can appreciate the social science, but I don't think the technological projection will match up to reality.
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