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Driverless cars: Are they the future for those living with a disability?

Driverless cars are moving ever-closer towards becoming a reality and have the potential to transform the lives of older people and those with disabilities.

Transport is a key issue for those with both physical and mental disabilities. Many can’t learn to drive, which often removes a sense of independence because they don’t have the ability to travel whenever and wherever they want. It doesn’t help that many aspects of public transport are still not disability-friendly, with Southern Rail becoming the latest transport provider to be heavily criticised for its treatment of disabled passengers.

Elderly people, too, could benefit, if they have been judged unfit to drive or are concerned about their ability to do so.

Travel difficulties can lead to a sense of entrapment and be a huge source of anxiety for disabled people and the ageing population, but the advent of driverless cars has the potential to revolutionise this. Some of the benefits for disabled people include:

  • New possibilities

Driverless cars will make simple things like socialising and attending hospital appointments much easier, and will mean disabled people could be less reliant on carers to carry out tasks like shopping or drive them around. The cars could also reduce the feelings of isolation that some people with disabilities experience.

  • Reduced anxieties

Having to rely on public transport or a driver can make something like enjoying a night out with friends much more stressful. Knowing that getting home will be a simple, straightforward journey where the person is in control can reduce anxieties about safety and cost.

  • Changing attitudes

The cars could have the added effect of helping to change attitudes towards people with disabilities. If driverless cars allow people to be feel more involved and integrated into society, engagement with able-bodied individuals would become more frequent which could help remove any stigma or misconceptions surrounding disabilities.

  • Improved employment opportunities

Disabled people are still 30 per cent less likely to be employed than their able-bodied counterparts, and difficulty with transportation could be considered an important reason behind the trend. Driverless cars have the potential to change this.

  • Other technological advances

The same technology could be used in other ways which could benefit disabled people, for example pre-programmed wheelchair journeys to make life easier.

More general benefits include things such as lower emissions and less chance of accidents, since human error accounts for 90 per cent of traffic incidents.

This is all good news, but it’s important to be aware that recent draft legislation in California has created a sticking point. The legislation states that a driverless car must have a qualified driver behind the wheel, and Nissan was quoted saying that driving without an able-bodied driver behind the wheel was not a priority.

On a more positive note, Google is fighting this legislation and there has been pressure from other public and private sector groups to ensure the legislation is progressive.

Technology has already been making life easier for drivers with recent advances like parking assist, sensors and automatic breaking, and driverless cars could be truly transformational, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for people with disabilities. At Fish, we think it’s important that the government, manufacturers and regulators ensure people with disabilities are included in the planning and development as we approach this new opportunity for mobility.

If you’re a disabled driver then you’ll love our disabled motor insurance policy. Not only does it offer significant discounts for registered disabled driver, Blue Badge holders and drivers of wheelchair adapted vehicles, but it provides benefits tailored to meet your needs.

 Find out more by clicking here or call us on 0333 331 3770.

For more information about disability vehicles and WAVs, why not visit our help and information page?

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call 0333 331 3770

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