How driverless cars could help the disabled

Over the past few decades, technology has advanced at a blistering rate, from computers that are thousands of times faster and smaller than they were when first brought into the home, to interconnectivity that has allowed easier communication than could ever have been imagined at the tail end of the last century. While all of this has brought benefits to the average citizen however, one group of people that it’s benefited tremendously is the disabled. We’ve gone from manual wheelchairs, to robotic prosthetics and smart systems that can allow advanced movements, even for those that are C-4 quadriplegics, and now driverless cars could bring about a whole new level of independence for these survivors.

At least, this is the future being foretold by the likes of Catherine Easton over at The Conversation, where she looks at how automated vehicles could not only help disabled people get about, but reduce their reliance on other people and could make them feel far freer by giving them independence. A common aspect of many physical disabilities, is feeling trapped, either in your home or your own body. With a driverless car, someone in a wheelchair could potentially take themselves to the shops without needing to tell anyone. Or travel to a friend’s house without needing to clear it with a carer or driver first.


Maybe adding a robotic driver would be a good way to solve the problem of “control” while being driven?

However for this sort of situation to be feasible, Easton argues that society’s attitude to automated cars will need to be accepting of the technology. As it stands, even with the UK pushing for trial runs of automated cars in specific cities, there’s a lot of mistrust of automated cars, from people that feel it’s dangerous to those that simply don’t want the golden days of personal motoring to come to an end. There’s certainly a worry that as insurance costs rise for those that continue to drive manually, that eventually only the rich will be able to afford to take their old “manual” car for a spin.

While nobody wants anyone’s freedoms cramped by new technology, embracing it so that the really disadvantaged can take advantage of it is important, Easton argues. In international law, a driver still needs to be present in a car, be it automated or not and this is likely to be the way it stays for some time to cover any potential insurance issues with automated vehicles. However, if that remains so, then a disabled person would still need an able bodied friend to come with them everytime they use their automated car, or it would be considered illegal – unless secondary and specifically designed controls are implemented, which adds unnecessary cost to the equation.

There are of course plenty of ethical, moral and legal implications for driverless cars, but we’ve talked about that a lot here as of late. Easton argues that these are simply hurdles we need to clear in order to not only offer new ways of us experiencing the road ways, cutting down on traffic and making commuting less of a chore, but also transforming the lives of disabled individuals the world over.

Image source: Land Rover MENA, Tristar

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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