Seniors currently outlive their ability to drive safely by approximately 7 to 10 years. Lack of transportation has a tremendous negative impact on older people. While there are some transit alternatives available, these options have serious flaws and are simply impractical or inaccessible to many aged individuals. Experts believe that self-driving cars offer a promising solution. These cars are already being tested on the roads today. Companies like Google and Tesla are in the forefront of developing this technology.
Surrendering the keys
When a person loses their ability to drive, it can be devastating. It impacts a person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. They are more likely to suffer from depression and isolation. Current transportation alternatives are problematic for many older people. For example, driving services like Uber and Lyft are often too expensive for those living on a fixed income. Public transportation is inaccessible to many people with mobility restrictions, and it’s not even available in rural areas. Door-to-door services provided specifically for seniors typically require a 24-hour notice from the rider. That is fine for appointments and other planned events, but it leaves no room for spontaneity.
What is an autonomous vehicle?
A true self-driving car requires zero input from the driver. This means a person can eat, read a book, or even sleep while traveling. These cars use an enhanced GPS system in combination with cameras and sensors that gather information about the surroundings. Software inside the vehicle aggregates this data to navigate the vehicle.
Partially autonomous cars allow people to have some control and input in the driving process. Certain people may be more comfortable with this type of vehicle. Not everyone wants or needs a car that works entirely on its own. Numerous vehicles currently have self-parking and enhanced cruise control features. These are precise examples of how partially autonomous cars function.
The technology is not quite advanced enough to make these cars a reality yet. Beyond the tech obstacles, however, there are a number of other challenges we face.
- Data protection – Who will own and protect travel data? How will this information be protected from hackers?
- Accident culpability – Who is responsible if an autonomous vehicle gets into an accident? Is it the driver, automobile manufacturer, or the technology developer?
- Licensing – Will the driver need some sort of license or will the vehicle need some type of driving license?
- Infrastructure – Do we need to make changes to our roadways or speed limits?
The advantages of self-driving vehicles are clear for anyone who is unable to drive themselves. This includes older people and disabled individuals. Seniors could reclaim their independence and mobility. It would have an enormous positive impact on our aged population. Society will also benefit. Increased safety is one of the significant advantages of these cars. Nine out of 10 accidents occur because of human error. Distracted driving, drunk driving, and speeding will all be eliminated with autonomous vehicles. Imagine how much safer traveling will be once humans are removed from the driving equation.
The implementation process
Not everyone is excited about autonomous vehicles. Nearly 50% of the US driving population states that they do not trust these vehicles and are not interested in using them. It will certainly take several years for people to understand and trust “car bots.” We expect to see them first gain popularity with fleet industry usage. Long-haul trucks will most likely be the initial autonomous vehicles to become widely used. Next, we will probably see self-driving service vehicles like street cleaners and parking lot security cars. Then, companies like Uber and Lyft will perhaps implement autonomous vehicles into their ride services. Eventually, people will become more comfortable with the idea of a self-driving car and these vehicles will make their way into the garage of the average person.
The reality of autonomous vehicles raises many questions. However, no doubt this transportation solution will provide a much-needed service for seniors. As the aging population increases in size, this innovation in transportation may be exactly what we need to keep people independent and happy for a longer period of time.