David Levitan, writing for Yale e360:
The environmental benefits promise to be significant. Self-driving technology could greatly reduce the risk of accidents, leading to far-lighter cars and slashing fuel consumption and emissions by more than a factor of 10 in some cases. Fewer traffic jams would also cut fuel use.
This is an often overlooked aspect of autonomous vehicles. One reason fuel economy stalled for decades was the increased mass each engine had to haul around thanks to more stringent crash standards. Engines became more powerful and more efficient in that time, but they also had to do more work. Lighten the load and you’ll release all that pent up efficiency.
In a way, self-driving cars will blur the line between rapid transit and traditional automobiles. Imagine a future where cars ping each other and assemble into wind-cheating road trains that can save even more fuel. Look further into the future, and there might come a day when we don’t feel the need to each own a car—instead, we call them from locally available pools to rent as needed. It would be the realization of personal rapid transit, but instead of using dedicated track, they would stick to existing roadways.