A lot of ink has been spilled over self-driving cars lately—whether they’ll work, how they work, and the potential for accidents.

What hasn’t been discussed as much is how autonomous vehicles could help the environment.

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“If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.” That’s the opening line to the short story that inspired the classic movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” which premiered in theaters 35 years ago this summer. The Griswolds’ zany cross-country odyssey spoofed the mythos surrounding the great American road trip, reassuring parents through their own travel disasters and disappointments.

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American roads are deadly. In 2016, 37,461 people died in traffic accidents in the US, a 5.6 percent increase over 2015, according to the US Department of Transportation (DoT). This is down from 1970, when around 60,000 people died in traffic accidents in the US. The addition of safety features such as seat belts and air bags have reduced the number of deaths, and new technology from autonomous vehicles could help even more as driver error is eliminated.

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It’s one thing for a self-driving car to navigate the sunny freeways around Phoenix. It’s another thing entirely to survive the streets of Manhattan or Detroit, much less in a snowstorm.

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