Self-driving cars may mean 200 million fewer cars on the roads by 2030


Self-driving cars are a viable reality in the not-so-far-off future. In order to dramatically alter transportation, autonomous vehicles need to be embraced by consumers and businesses. But that shouldn't be a problem, according to an optimistic new report by independent research group RethinkX.

RethinkX forecasts that 60% of vehicles on the road will be self-driving cars within 10 years of government approval of autonomous vehicles. The group also anticipates each autonomous electric car replacing multiple private vehicles, which suggests the number of cars on the road will see a sharp decline. Their estimates are somewhere around 44 million. For reference, there are around 247 million vehicles on the road currently.

The report further envisions the success of self-piloting cars to impact other industries by diminishing the need of new car production, auto insurers, repair shops and even a decline in global oil production. The Drive notes, however, that several factors (like, government, economics, and environmental variables) can hinder autonomous vehicles from being adopted at such a scale.

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While RethinkX expects this future to be set in 2030, there's no telling when the government will give approval to a Level 5 self-driving car that can handle all driving tasks without a human. The federal government released the first guidelines outlining safety standards and rules for automated vehicles in September.

Self-driving cars could change the world

In a perfect world, a future dominated by self-driving vehicles can come with several advantages, from environmental benefits to human safety. But these anticipated perks are not necessarily guaranteed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says transportation accounted for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. "Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes," the EPA wrote. "Over 90% of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, which includes gasoline and diesel." But according to research from the Department of Energy, self-driving cars could reduce transportation-related energy consumption by as much as 90% or increase it by more than 250%.

As for safety, road traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in the United States. Data from the National Safety Council reveals 40,200 lives were claimed in motor vehicles crashes last year — this is a 6% rise from 2015 and a 14% spike from 2014. The financial cost of accident-related deaths, injuries and property damage in 2016 comes to $432.5 billion, the NSC reports. In this context, the case for autonomous driving is clear: self-driving cars have the potential to reduce accidents, save lives and prevent financial loss. Yet, while some reports estimate driverless cars could potentially reduce road accident-related deaths by 90%, the counter-case has been made that a comparison is near-impossible due to a lack of data.

Even so, it comes with one definite advantage: it's easier on human drivers.