Speed Reads

Burning questions

Driverless cars may be an environmental disaster

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There are plenty of legitimate concerns about the advent of the self-driving automobile — road safety chief among them. But if nothing else, our future robot-chauffeur overlords are presumed to be more efficient drivers, less prone to speed up and brake based on emotion and the irrational urge to get to work two minutes faster, safety be damned. Steadier speeds, slower acceleration, and less braking are a recipe for using less fuel, so driverless cars should be a boon for the environment, right?

Probably not, says Chandra Bhat, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas. After a talk at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Bhat told KUT's Kate McGee that driverless cars will be great for people — without the need to drive, you can work or relax or even sleep during your morning commute. But that could reverse the trend away from gas-guzzling vehicles: People will probably want their mobile offices to be big and comfortable. They also may not mind longer commutes and be less likely to take public transportation. Thanks, Google. --Peter Weber