In the months and years ahead, the car world is expected to see some dramatic changes. This partly down to development of driver-less cars and their gradual emergence onto public highways. Luxury makes Lexus and Mercedes are just two global car makers to have announced that they are developing technology for autonomous cars, while tech giant Google has already made strides in testing its automated technology in the wild. Similarly, in the UK, Tesla has trialled its driver-less Autopilot system on British roads and there are now rumours that Apple has begun working with German manufacturer BMW to develop its own vehicle that is speculated to be automated too.

Although the appearance of fully-automated cars may be just around the corner, many members of the public are still unsure about the technology. As a matt, a survey by AAA suggested that around 75 per cent of the public are currently fearful about riding in a self-driving car.

However, it’s true that driver-less cars have the potential to benefit a great number of different groups in society — including the elderly. This is particularly evident you consider the Surface Transportation Policy Project titled ‘Ageing Americans: Stranded Without Options’. The research revealed that 20% of Americans over the age of 65 don’t drive whatsoever.

The following article further explores how driver-less cars have the capability to assist older citizens…

Waymo’s appealing approach

A venture originally starting as Google’s driver-less car division, Waymo’s autonomous vehicles have already been driven at least 3.5 million miles in 22 test cities around the world — one test even saw a blind man successfully being able to complete a test ride by himself.

Waymo has incorporated a range of different design elements throughout their development of autonomous vehicles which have a focus on helping senior citizens, as well as those with disabilities as well.

In addition, hearing-impaired people are sure to appreciate screens within each vehicle’s cabin which are roughly the size of a laptop screen, for example. These screens allow individuals to follow a route, as well as view selected information such as any traffic signals, crosswalks, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users encountered while getting from A to B.

Then there’s the dashboard buttons. Those who are familiar with cars which have rolled off production lines over the past few years are likely to have already come across a ‘Start’ button. However, Waymo vehicles also come complete with a ‘Pull Over’ button and a ‘Help’ button that will begin a two-way voice communication connection with a control centre when pressed.

AARP’s view

Executive vice president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Nancy LeaMond, raised the point that elderly people must be considered while driver-less cars are being designed and developed, explaining: “This is a critical part of liveable communities as we talk to mayors and other officials around the country.

“To be successful, people of all ages will need to trust the machine to do the driving and right now there is a very significant trust gap. A full three-quarters of U.S. drivers of all ages report feeling afraid to ride in a self-driving car.”

At the same panel discussion, Elizabeth Macnab of the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens’ Organisations identified a number of considerations must be made in order to make sure that autonomous vehicles are seen as appealing by the elderly, including:

  1. The vehicles should be affordable to senior citizens on a fixed income.
  2. The vehicles should be accessible to senior citizens who need to use mobility aids and walking devices to get around.
  3. The manufacturers of autonomous vehicles should commit to providing training to elderly people about how to correctly use a driver-less car.

British Transport Secretary’s view

With the growing possibility of the public only having weeks (or perhaps even days) remaining until they share the roads with driver-less cars, what are people’s feelings towards the technology?

British Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has gone as far as claiming that driver-less vehicles will transform the lives of the elderly and the disabled. Promoting the benefits of this new form of transport on both the economy and society in a speech made at the Association of British Insurers’ annual conference in London, Mr Grayling said: “The potential benefits of these new technologies for human mobility — and for wider society — are tremendously exciting.

“Many who can’t currently drive will be able to take to the road. Elderly people or people with disabilities which prevent them from travelling today will discover a new sense of freedom and independence.”

He was also keen to highlight another benefit of self-driving cars, in that “self-driving cars should make road travel far safer by eliminating the biggest contributory factor in accidents today — human error”.

It’s clear to see that autonomous vehicles will be a great help for the elderly — and other demographics — to remain on the road, making this shift in the world of cars a change that we should embrace and be ready to get behind in the near future.

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