Autonomous vehicles could benefit health if cars are electric and shared

January 30, 2020

What impact will self-driving cars have on public health? The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institute supported by "la Caixa", has taken part in a study that analysed the potential risks and benefits of autonomous vehicles for public health. The conclusions of the study, published in the Annual Review of Public Health, indicate that this new type of mobility could benefit public health if the cars are electric and the model used is based on ridesharing.

Forecasts indicate that, in 2020, 5% of car sales will involve self-driving vehicles and that this figure could rise to 40% by 2030 (fully autonomous vehicles). 'Autonomous technology' refers to technology that can drive a vehicle without the need for any active physical control or monitoring by a human driver. Car autonomy is classified on a six-level scale starting at zero--a vehicle with no automation in which the driver performs all operating tasks and controls the driving environment--and going up to level five-- a fully autonomous, completely automated vehicle.

David Rojas, first author of the paper and a researcher at ISGlobal and Colorado State University, explains the current situation: "At the international level, we are still seeing very little research or planning by the authorities in anticipation of the advent of these new transport technologies, despite the fact that autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly modify our cities and the way we travel. And this innovative autonomous technology will also have an impact on public health."

The authors of the study synthesised data from published research to identify the possible direct and indirect health impacts of autonomous vehicles on the population. The study also includes a series of recommendations aimed at policy makers, health professionals and researchers in the field.

"The advent of autonomous vehicles may result in either health benefits or risks depending on a number of factors, such as how the technology is implemented, what fuel and engines are used, how self-driving cars are used and how they are integrated with other modes of transport," asserts Rojas.

The use of autonomous vehicles is likely to reduce the number of road accidents. One of the studies discussed in this paper estimated that if 90% of the cars in the United States were to become fully autonomous, an estimated 25,000 lives could be saved every year, with economic savings estimated at over $200 billion a year.

As well as providing benefits in terms of road safety, autonomous vehicles would also offer major opportunities for public health if the vehicles are electric and are used in a ridesharing format and integrated into a model that also prioritises public transport, cycling and walking. Such a model would promote physical activity, reduce air and noise pollution, and provide more public space for a healthy urban design.

However, self-driving vehicles could have a negative impact on public health if the future model is based on fossil fuel engines and individual ownership, leading to an increase in motorised traffic, greater sedentarism and worse air quality.

Author Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen, researcher and Director of ISGlobal's Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative, concludes: "We need to start planning the implementation of autonomous technology as soon as possible so as to minimise the risks and maximise the health benefits. This technology should be used to support public and active transport, prioritising the most disadvantaged communities and contributing to a shift in urban planning and transport models that will lead to a healthier urban environment."
-end-
Reference

David Rojas-Rueda, Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen, Haneen Khreis and Howard Frumkin. Autonomous Vehicles and Public Health. Annual Review of Public Health 2020. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040119-094035

Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.200852.

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.