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Self-driving cars could be more fuel-efficient than human drivers

Photo: Volvo Cars
Photo: Volvo Cars

The expected benefits of self-driving cars are widely touted: They will be safer than human drivers and improve access to transportation for people with disabilities, the elderly and the poor.

One other potential benefit: They will be better for the environment (and not just because most AVs will be electric).

Driving the news: A new study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on behalf of Volvo showed a 5% to 7% drop in fuel consumption for cars driving with adaptive cruise control compared with human drivers.

  • NREL studied Volvos driven by employees and their families near the company's headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • They compared the fuel economy of cars using adaptive cruise control to those without the system, which automatically adjusts to the speed of the car ahead.
  • It's the first study that uses real-world driving data to show how much more efficient cars with driver-assistance features can be, according to Green Car Reports.

Quick take: With less stop-and-go driving, cars drive at a steadier pace and thus burn less fuel.

What to watch: Future developments such as platooning and vehicle-to-vehicle communications could smooth traffic flow even further, making cars potentially even more efficient.