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How driverless cars can assist people with disabilities

With driverless cars gearing up to hit the roads in the months and years to come, the motoring world looks set to experience one of its biggest shifts very shortly. Autonomous car technology is already being looked at by big-name vehicle manufacturers like Lexus and Mercedes, while Tesla has already begun to trial its driverless Autopilot system on UK roads. Google is testing its own automated technology as well, while there are rumours that Apple has teamed up with German car maker BMW to create its own vehicle — there’s speculation that this set of wheels will be automated too.

The opinions of the public when it comes to autonomous vehicles are split though. In an independent survey of 10,000 drivers conducted by the RSA Insurance Group, for instance, almost six in ten motorists were excited about the development of driverless cars. However, more than a quarter of respondents raised concerns about whether these types of vehicles can be hacked and would be vulnerable to crashing. 

Researchers based at Cambridge University’s Engineering Department and the Department of Psychology found feelings to be split when they carried out their own online survey involving 2,850 UK residents too. This is because while 10 per cent of those involved in the survey said that they would definitely use a fully driverless vehicle, another 15 per cent of respondents replied that they definitely would not use this type of automobile. 

There is the potential for various groups in society to find driverless cars useful though, including the disabled and elderly people. Here, award-winning straight stairlift​ supplier Acorn Stairlifts goes into further detail about how autonomous vehicles may soon be assisting people with disabilities… 

Driverless cars – a button on the dashboard for automated driving

Why Waymo’s approach to driverless cars should catch the eye

Waymo is certainly gathering some momentum when it comes to the development of autonomous vehicles. A company which started out as the autonomous car division at Google, the firm’s driverless cars have already been driven at least 3.5 million miles in 22 test cities — with one test seeing a blind man successfully being able to complete a test ride by himself.

Several design elements have been incorporated by Waymo while they’ve been working on autonomous vehicles. These features have the intention to help the elderly, as well as individuals with disabilities, when they are heading out on a road trip. 

For example, there are screens in the cabin of the driverless cars which are approximately the size of a laptop computer’s screen and sure to prove handy to individuals on-board the vehicle who are hearing-impaired. This is because these screens allow individuals to follow a route, as well as view selected information such as any traffic signals, crosswalks, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users encountered while getting from A to B.

We must also mention the buttons found on the dashboard of a Waymo driverless car. People who are familiar with cars which have rolled off production lines over the past few years are likely to have already come across a ‘Start’ button. However, Waymo vehicles also come complete with a ‘Pull Over’ button and a ‘Help’ button that will begin a two-way voice communication connection with a control center when pressed.

The time until you’re enjoying a ride aboard a driverless car may not be long away either. After all, Waymo launched the world’s first commercial driverless car service recently!

The general vibe about driverless cars

So, we could be just weeks if not only a few days away from beginning to share the road with autonomous vehicles. What is the general vibe around this technology?

Chris Grayling, Britain’s Transport Secretary, believes that the lives of the elderly and the disabled can both be transformed once self-driving cars begin rolling off production lines. Promoting the benefits of this new form of transport on both the economy and society in a speech made at the Association of British Insurers’ annual conference in London, Mr Grayling said: “The potential benefits of these new technologies for human mobility — and for wider society — are tremendously exciting.

“Many who can’t currently drive will be able to take to the road. Elderly people or people with disabilities which prevent them from travelling today will discover a new sense of freedom and independence.”

Another benefit of driverless cars acknowledged by the British Transport Secretary is that “self-driving cars should make road travel far safer by eliminating the biggest contributory factor in accidents today — human error”.

Across the Atlantic earlier this year, the executive vice president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Nancy LeaMond stated that elderly people must remain in mind during the design stages of autonomous vehicles. 

“This is a critical part of livable communities as we talk to mayors and other officials around the country,” Ms LeaMond explained while speaking as part of a AARP panel discussion at the North American International Auto Show.

“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.”

Elizabeth Macnab, from the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens’ Organizations, was also part of the same AARP panel discussion. She pointed out that there are a few considerations which must be made to ensure driverless cars are indeed appealing to people with disabilities and the elderly, including:

1.    The vehicles should be affordable to people on a fixed income.

2.    The vehicles should be accessible to people who need to use mobility aids and walking devices to get around.

3.    The manufacturers of autonomous vehicles should commit to providing training about how to correctly use a driverless car.

The introduction of autonomous vehicles certainly seems to be a change in the motoring world that we should all back, especially if they do indeed help the elderly and people with disabilities. 


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