First, we’re going to look at the current state of the driverless car technology industry and predictions for the future.
Driverless Car Technology 2015
In February 2015, as mentioned above, the Department for Transport have begun testing autonomous cars, with self-drive pods tested in both in Milton Keynes and Coventry and as this video shows, there is considerable excitement and positive forecasts for the future of driverless car industry in the UK.
Further to this there are a large number of companies and dedicated researchers focusing on driverless technology and have big plans for the future. Mercedes, for example, have plans to launch their Autobahn Pilot in 2016 which will allow for hands-free driving on motorways, with hands-free overtaking, as this video shows:
Nissan too are working on features which allow for autonomous manoeuvres on multilane roads by 2018 and Jaguar expect to release their first driverless vehicle in 2024 with Daimler and Ford following quickly behind in 2025.
It’s clear that driverless technology is very firmly coming to our roads and soon it may be something we can all benefit from, including people with disabilities. In the long term the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers believe that as many as 75% of all vehicles may be autonomous by 2040.
The Benefits of Driverless Cars for Disabled PeopleThere are many benefits of driverless cars, some general and some specific to people with disabilities. The more general benefits of driverless vehicles include:
Human error is a key factor in many road traffic accidents, with driverless vehicles there is no human error and failing to look or not seeing hazards is no longer an issue. Driverless vehicles use a range of sensors placed around the whole car, ensuring they can sense hazards. If safety is improved then there will be less risk of injuries, fatalities and disabilities caused by traffic accidents.
More Free Time
The average driver in England is said to spend around 235 hours driving a year on average, which is equal to six working weeks. With a driverless vehicle you have the choice of driving as well as letting the vehicle drive itself, allowing the driver to take time out to enjoy the ride.
The long-term belief for driverless technology is that it will be able to communicate with pieces of road infrastructure, including traffic lights and therefore avoiding congestion, avoiding traffic jams and taking routes which are quicker and cause less of a risk to the environment.
Looking at driverless technology as a disabled person it could completely revolutionise the lives of many, with the opportunities for people who had been unable to drive especially interesting. Below are some of the key, specific benefits of driverless vehicles for disabled people:
Accessing the World
With access to a vehicle it is easier to travel, easier to get around and means simple things like shopping, attending hospital appointments and work can be reached more easily. The current situation can be very hard for individuals who don’t own or have access to a car as accessible taxis aren’t the norm and the difficulty of access to buses and trains has been well documented. There has even been recent news that some taxi drivers have intentionally overcharged wheelchair users, making navigating public transport not only difficult but expensive too.
Much like the point above, a driverless car can help disabled people get out more often, enjoy a social life and feel safe whilst doing so. Enjoying evenings and nights out safe in the knowledge that getting home will be a simple straightforward journey in your autonomous vehicle, makes it easier to enjoy the night out and not have to worry or feel anxious about getting back, or panic about the cost.
What else do we want from Driverless Cars?
Disruption. The end of the mobility scooter? Driverless Motability Cars for all disabled people?
The advent of driverless technology is extremely exciting but there are still questions. Will the mobility scooter become obsolete? Scooter users will be able to use the “mainstream” driverless cars for short journeys instead? The government’s Motability scheme would may need to be updated and edited. There would be many people who could suddenly use a car when previously it had been beyond their abilities. This could see a huge number of new people wanting to access the scheme.
Driverless Car Sharing for Community Groups
There is also the possibility that driverless vehicles could be bought and offered by community groups, allowing them to be shared by their members. They could be used as autonomous taxis, returning to a central depot in between drop offs and thereby used by several people during a day. When it’s your turn to use the vehicle it can drive to your door and pick you up!. This is step forward, especially in environments where people live in supported accommodation or care homes where trips out and excursions can be limited by the staff on the rota and whether or not they’re insured to drive the provided vehicle, if there even is one!
Also in places where regular accessible transport is hard to find like small rural villages for example. A car could be shared by a group of older people living near to each other.
Pre-programmed Wheelchair Journeys?
Where will technology go next? Is there scope that the same technology used for driverless cars can be used in electric wheelchairs? Could they too become autonomous and self-guided? People could have pre-programmed journeys around the house, school or to local shops.
Telecare and health monitoring
Other features which could be useful for disabled people, in the most modern vehicles include health monitoring and telecare possibilities, which could perhaps be built into the cars too. People with epilepsy or heart conditions for instance, could have sensors built into their modes of transport, perhaps even programmed to take them to a safe destination or alerting friends or relatives if difficulties occur?
The Future – Please comment with your ideas
It does seem that the possibilities are almost endless with driverless technology and though there is a lot of testing that still needs to be done, there is real scope for change which could make the world even more accessible and allow even more disabled people to enjoy an improved level of independence. Please comment with any ideas or suggestions you have. If you can think of ways driverless vehicles could help disabled people, please let us know in the comments.