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How Driverless Cars Can Help the Elderly

Thanks to the emergence of driverless cars onto public roads, our view of the world of automobiles is set for a dramatic change in the months and years ahead. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to help so many groups in society, such as the elderly.

Award-winning straight stairlift manufacturer Acorn Stairlifts explores further just how driverless cars have the capability to assist older citizens.

Waymo’s approach

Waymo started out as the autonomous car division at Google. The firm’s driverless cars have already clocked at least 3.5 million miles in 22 test cities, with one test featuring a blind man who was successfully able to complete a test ride by himself.

Throughout the development of the company’s autonomous vehicles, Waymo has demonstrated the ability to incorporate a variety of design elements aimed at helping the elderly, along with individuals with disabilities. The vehicle’s cabin screens are around the size of a laptop computer’s screen, sure to be appreciated by the visually- and hearing-impaired. With the use of these screens individuals can follow a route and view selected information such as any traffic signals, crosswalks, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users encountered while getting around.

Waymo vehicles also come with a ‘Pull Over’ button and a ‘Help’ button that when pressed will open up a two-way voice communication connection with a control centre.

The British Transport Secretary’s views

British Transport Secretary Chris Grayling claimed that self-driving cars will transform the lives of the elderly and the disabled. Also pointed out by the Transport Secretary was another benefit of autonomous vehicles which is that self-driving cars should make road travel a lot safer by eliminating the biggest contributory factor in accidents today; human error.

The AARP’s views

The executive vice president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Nancy LeaMond, pointed out that senior citizens need to be kept in mind as part of the design process of autonomous vehicles.

Speaking during an AARP panel discussion held at the North American International Auto Show earlier this year, she said, “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.”

The panel discussion also featured Elizabeth Macnab of the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens’ Organizations, who pointed out some considerations which must be made to ensure driverless cars would be appealing to elderly people, including:

  1. Affordability: the vehicles would need to be affordable to senior citizens on a fixed income.
  2. Accessibility: the vehicles need to be accessible to senior citizens who need to use mobility aids and walking devices to get around.
  3. Manufacturer-led training: the manufacturers of the autonomous vehicles would need to commit to providing training to elderly people about the correct use of driverless cars.

These make for some clear indications that driverless cars will be able to help the elderly and other demographics as well, to remain on the road.