The future of cars is edging ever closer and many of the ideas that were once just sci-fi fantasies could soon become a reality. Already many new cars come with some element of autonomous technology, such as parking assist and lane departure, and it won’t be too long before this develops into completely self-driving cars.
While this will have a lot of advantages for people who either can’t or don’t want to learn to drive, those who are disabled could be the ones who benefit the most.
Integrating with GPS, autonomous technology and using voice control will mean those with a range of disabilities should be able to use self-driving cars safely. Much like with many of the existing wheelchair accessible vehicles available from Allied Mobility, wheelchair users and those who struggle with movability will probably still need someone alongside them. However, if self-driving cars don’t require a licenced driver to be present then this opens up more opportunities for who it can be. Further developments could lead to voice activated door opening and ramps though, for extra convenience.
Short and Long-Distance Driving
It doesn’t just have to be for long journeys in regular cars that can benefit disabled people. Small self-driving cars could change how people get around their retirement communities for example. In all likelihood, the early, fully self-driving cars will be smaller models before they develop into regular road vehicles. At first these could be used for simply navigating gated retirement communities, providing less risk if anything goes wrong, before evolving into completely autonomous cars.
Being able to drive or having access to a self-driving car provides a lot more freedom, which can open up many more job opportunities for disabled people. There are many roles which can be done remotely but the majority of positions requires going to a workplace every day. In the USA, improving transport for disabled people could enable employment for two million individuals. Plus, it will make visiting friends and family a lot easier, having a positive effect on mental health too.
Insurance and Regulation
Before any of this becomes a reality though, there are still important areas that need sorting out. Firstly, it could be a long time before it’s legal for a self-driving car to be ‘piloted’ by anyone that doesn’t hold a driving licence. Regulation around this needs to be clear. Secondly, how insurance is worked out and what it costs, especially if it changes for disabled ‘drivers’ will have to be worked out as well, not being too excessive that it prices out most people.
Self-driving cars look like they will have a highly positive impact on the lives of many disabled people, as long as these issues are ironed out.