They are too old to drive safely or cannot see well enough or otherwise have sound reason to fear climbing behind the wheel of a car. For them, a future when vehicles drive themselves promises unprecedented freedom.
This is a good-news story, but one that comes replete with the caveats and worries that people who have traditionally been cut out of the transportation equation — in part or entirely — continue to harbor.
“We are concerned that certain populations will not be able to benefit from this technology if very specific design issues are not addressed,” said Henry Claypool, a policy consultant to the American Association of People with Disabilities and co-author of a paper that gauges the potential impact of self-driving cars on the community.
The Trump administration and both chambers of Congress are trying to strike a balance between allowing unfettered design development and prudent regulation for an industry that already has test fleets on the road in many states, including some without a backup driver behind the wheel.
“Whether it's because of General Motors ignition switches, Takata air bags or Volkswagen emissions software, consumers are not necessarily going to immediately trust auto companies,” William Wallace of the Consumers Union said this month in arguing for more-stringent federal oversight at a forum held by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
More than 60 million people are hearing- or vision-impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of elderly who no longer drive is not certain, but as the baby-boom generation ages, it is bound to swell. In addition, an estimated 3.5 million Americans have some form of autism, and about 400,000 have Down syndrome. These groups also stand to benefit from the new technology.