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Driverless Cars and Their Impact on the Elderly

A transportation bill signed into law in early April could pave the way for driverless cars in Florida.

Driverless, or self-driving cars, use technology to control a vehicle. Advocates of these cars say they could help the elderly and people with disabilities maintain some of their mobility and freedom. Still, there are several things to consider before this technology becomes a bigger part of our mode of transportation, especially for the elderly.

Driverless cars have been around for years, though they aren’t currently available for consumer purchase. Google began testing driverless cars around 2010 and currently has 33 prototypes for driverless cars and 23 SUVs that include driverless technology. Its driverless cars include removable steering wheels and pedals.

In Florida, the Department of Transportation has been testing driverless technology for several years. A department spokesperson said that it also has done research on how the technology can help Florida’s senior population, which now totals more than 4.1 million people.

Pros & Cons of Driverless Cars for the Elderly

While the technology is promising, there are some drawbacks. First among them are the safety concerns. Each elderly person’s driving ability is different and every person has different physical limitations that may affect their response times, even in a driverless car. In California, for example, the state has drafted new legislation that requires drivers in a driverless car to be in control of the vehicle at all times (which defeats the purpose of the technology). There’s also the question of what happens if the technology malfunctions. This could jeopardize a driver’s safety on the road, especially if they can’t respond quickly enough to regain control of the vehicle or if a virus prevents them from doing so.

Still, the impact that driverless technology could have on the elderly is potentially huge. It could help to address driving challenges like short sight and slow reaction times, and it could send warnings about tight turns, pedestrians and other obstacles that drivers typically encounter on the road.

However, the greatest potential benefit of these cars is that they could prevent the loss of independence the elderly feel when they have to give up driving. Driverless cars may give them more autonomy and get them out and about and moving, which is better for your overall physical and mental health as you age.

But we’re still far away from mainstream driverless cars. This is new technology that still needs to be learned, understood and thoroughly tested. Every driver has different needs and abilities, so the technology must be fine-tuned to address all these circumstances. No technology is without error, but safety should be of the utmost concern when it comes to driverless cars. Google’s self-driving cars have been in several accidents, and some of these cars aren’t yet skilled at adapting to changing weather conditions. All these things need to be tested and improved upon before seniors — or anyone else, for that matter — get behind the wheel.

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