HughPickens.com writes: David Roberts writes at VOX that it stands to reason that vehicle automation could save energy and reduce emissions in some ways. Cars will be able to chain together more aerodynamically, drive at more consistent speeds, and perhaps serve as shared vehicles in lieu of individual vehicle ownership. But it also stands to reason that automation could increase energy use and emissions in some ways. If driving is easier and more pleasant, people will do it more. Automation will open up car travel to populations (the young, the elderly, the visually or otherwise impaired) who did not previously have access. Self-driving cars could increase the overall amount of vehicle miles traveled. (Read more, below.)Hugh Pickens continues: A new study: "Help or hindrance? The travel, energy and carbon impacts of highly automated vehicles," suggests that the big swing factor is travel cost reduction — in other words, how cheap and easy driving gets. If that stays at the low end, then the effects of self-driving cars on energy use are almost certain to be a substantial net positive. However if it reaches the high end, a 60 percent boost in energy consumption for transportation, all the energy-saving benefits could be wiped out, for a net increase in energy and emissions. "This leads to somewhat surprising policy implications It may be that the socially optimal outcome, at least for now, is partial, not full, automation. That way the energy and emissions benefits of smarter driving practices can be fully captured, without allowing drivers to tune entirely out — without making it too easy," concludes Roberts. "Perhaps when we get farther down the road (ahem) — when more vehicles are electrified, when car sharing is more firmly established, when the benefits of automation have proven out — we can move to full automation without the risk of carbon blowback."