5 Potential Benefits of Self-Driving Cars for Seniors

In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that 15 percent of people 65 years of age or older no longer drive. The number of seniors who no longer drive today is not precisely known but the figure will undoubtedly continue to grow as the baby boomer generation ages. Many seniors have simply reduced the amount of time they spend driving. Transportation is an enormous barrier for seniors, although driverless vehicles aim to eliminate, or at least reduce this problem significantly. Thanks to guidance released by the federal government at the close of 2017, the introduction of driverless vehicles on U.S. roads is not only imminent but anticipated to come sooner rather than later. While it may take some time for seniors to feel comfortable interacting with the technology, self-driving car manufacturers are attempting to take these reservations into account in their designs. Much of the focus in self-driving car design is simplicity and ease of use. Many self-driving cars are controlled using smartphone apps, so seniors will need to equip themselves with these devices in order to interact with the vehicles. While smartphones may seem a bit intimidating to some older folks, car makers are designing their apps to be increasingly user friendly and easy to use. Examples of such accommodations are incorporating audio commands and auditory alerts or visual displays and signals into the controls. The following information includes a few of the potential benefits of self-driving vehicles for seniors.

  1. 1. Autonomy

    The most obvious potential benefit of a self-driving car for a senior citizen is the return of autonomy to transport oneself around town to shop, visit with friends and attend appointments. Many seniors resist taxis and ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft, because of discomfort trusting strangers and insecurity in recognizing vehicles. Many seniors also resist requesting the help of family or friends with vehicles out of a desire to avoid imposing themselves on others. However, with driverless vehicles a senior is no longer beholden to a friend or family member or forced to pay a taxi or driving service to transport him or her around. For many seniors, this regained autonomy may be precisely what it takes to get them out of their houses and engaging with the world more. Furthermore, auto manufacturers are also developing various stages of semi-autonomous vehicles. These will allow seniors who still possess the abilities to perform some of the tasks of driving to feel empowered and active in the process of transitioning to fully self-driving vehicles.

  2. 2. Disabled Accessibility

    There is a good chance many self-driving cars will have accessibility features to support disabled users. Many elderly people also have physical handicaps, making them doubly suitable candidates for self-driving vehicles. Driverless cars of the near future may also include wheelchair access. They may have audio and tactile interfaces so the visually impaired can interact with the controls and track the progress on their trips. Driverless cars may also provide the means for the blind to control atmospheric elements like the radio and heating or air conditioning. Furthermore, hearing impaired travelers may be able to track their routes on large screens equivalent in size to laptop computer screens. The screen will display pertinent travel information, including the car’s location, its route and the locations of crosswalks, traffic signals, pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles.

  3. 3. Privacy

    Many seniors are hesitant to avail themselves of transportation resources because they are fearful that their privacy will be violated. A senior may feel that the ability to transport oneself around in a self-driving car means that no one needs to know where he or she is coming from, where he or she is going or anything about his or her daily tasks. For many seniors, this fact alone can make the difference between being homebodies or having full lives outside of their homes.

  4. 4. Connection

    Self-driving cars will allow seniors to connect with each other for social engagements. Loneliness and isolation are common problems for seniors, but driverless cars can provide the bridge that transcends that boundary. Seniors can pick one another up and drive to a local park, museum, mall or movie theater. They can meet up at local cafes, diners and restaurants to enjoy meals together. They can even attend church services, join bowling leagues, play bingo or take dance classes together. Self-driving cars will allow seniors to come out of their shells and spend quality time around other people without depending on anyone else’s schedule or resources. They could also allow seniors the mobility to go and visit family members who live a greater distance away.

  5. 5. Health

    Many seniors may resist pursuing the levels of care they need due to lack of available transportation. If a senior is not attending a doctor as frequently as needed or getting the necessary tests to prevent illness or diagnose symptoms, that senior’s health could decline rapidly. The freedom of mobility afforded by self-driving vehicles can empower seniors to take the kind of vigilance with their health that can translate to longer and more active lives.