Motorists of all ages are concerned about self-driving cars. Uber and Lyft drivers are worried about losing their jobs, while others simply doubt that computers can drive as well as humans. (Fun fact: they can. And how.)
But what's often left out of discussions around autonomous vehicles are the benefits they'll offer to people with disabilities. That's a major consideration, given that 57 million Americans are classified as disabled, including 3.8 million veterans.
While self-driving cars won't allow all of those folks to purse employment, they'll be a boon to some. A new white paper from Securing America's Future Energy (a think tank devoted to weaning the U.S. off of oil) and the Ruderman Family Foundation shows that autonomous vehicles will allow 2,000,000 people with disabilities to enter the workforce.
Not only that, the study found that self-driving cars could have a huge effect on something you might not expect: healthcare.
The study's data shows that disabled persons miss roughly 11.2 million medical appointments each year because they lack access to transportation. Those suffering the most include people with mental disabilities, renal disease, congestive heart failure, and hypertension.
These missed appointments cause big headaches for healthcare workers and drive up medical costs. The study suggests that by improving access to healthcare, self-driving vehicles could save America $19 billion dollars per year.
Add those savings to improvements in productivity, fuel efficiency, accident-avoidance, and the like, and autonomous cars could produce savings of $1.3 trillion annually.
To that end, SAFE and the Ruderman Family Foundation have adopted four areas of focus in shaping future policies around self-driving vehicles:
- Recommending that governments do not require a licensed operator in a level 4 autonomous vehicle capable of operating without human input;
- Suggesting that local governments pilot autonomous vehicles as a mobility aid to underserved populations, including the disability community and for older Americans;
- Urging the disability community to develop a common policy and advocacy agenda for autonomous vehicle by convening a stakeholder organization;
- Encouraging technology developers to design autonomous vehicles to be as broadly accessible as possible, following the principles of universal design whenever feasible.
We can't say for certain whether they'll be successful in their efforts, but we can guarantee that autonomous vehicles will roll into a showroom near you in the not-so-distant future.
The whitepaper is a great read, if you have the time. You can download a PDF of it by clicking here.