Center for American Progress

RELEASE: With Autonomous Vehicles, Questions Remain About Impact on Carbon Emissions
Press Release

RELEASE: With Autonomous Vehicles, Questions Remain About Impact on Carbon Emissions

Washington, D.C. — As advances in autonomous vehicle, or AV, technology set it on a course to becoming a reality in the next few years, more research is needed to fully understand the impact that AVs will have on carbon emissions from the transportation sector. A report by the Center for American Progress has found that despite these advances, existing research fails to draw clear and consistent conclusions about the impact that AVs will have on emissions and, ultimately, whether they will be a benefit or a hindrance to reaching climate goals.

Automakers and technology companies are making great strides in bringing full-fledged autonomous vehicles and vehicles equipped with autonomous features—such as lane centering, automatic breaking, and parking assistance—to market. As a result, there has been a great deal of focus on the safety, economic, and mobility impacts of AVs on the market and on the way in which Americans utilize transportation. However, the impact on carbon emissions remains unclear.

“The technology seen in the current cohort of autonomous vehicles will certainly transform the way Americans travel from home to work or to school and back again,” said Myriam Alexander-Kearns, CAP Research Associate and co-author of the report. “However, there are still serious questions about the impact these changes will have on carbon emissions and the global fight to prevent climate change. There should be a concerted effort to answer these questions alongside those of safety, economy, and mobility.”

The research does show a mixed bag of benefits and pitfalls with the deployment of autonomous vehicles. In one respect, the vehicle miles traveled in a given year could rise as AVs make it easier for drivers to use a car more often or for longer trips. However, if AVs were paired with ride- and car-sharing services, the overall vehicle-miles traveled could decline as passengers pool trips. Some proponents of AVs suggest that congestion would decrease if a majority of cars were automated and connected to one another, resulting in reduced carbon emissions, but those effects would take years to materialize as the current fleet is slowly replaced with autonomous vehicles.

Click here to read the report.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at or 202.481.7141.