Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicle technology has been dominating the conversation surrounding the future of transportation infrastructure in our country. This often evokes images of a fleet of driverless cars and buses conveniently available for efficient transportation, free from user error. While the most common concern raised in these discussions is the safety and intelligence these new technologies will be able to offer, it seems the question of accessibility is often left out of the equation.
For populations like seniors and those with disabilities, transportation can be a huge barrier for independence and thus quality of life. Being unable or fearful to drive limits access to food, medicine and health care, not to mention the mental health effects social isolation can have on an individual. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports 42% of all Americans living with a disability have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities. While the Surface Transportation Policy found that 20% of Americans over 65 do not drive at all.
One of the more exciting aspects of autonomous vehicle technology is the greater sense of freedom and independence it could offer these populations. Instead of always having to rely on family members and caregivers, those unable to operate a car would now have access to door-to-door, automated transportation services. These cutting-edge vehicles would be able to accelerate, turn, brake and perform all the other functions of driving without any user direction, making them ideal for those who can’t operate a car.