What Do Autonomous Cars Mean for Older Adults? Back »

Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown and Lorna Saboe-Wounded Head.

Many older adults see being able to drive as a cornerstone of their independence. In certain areas of the United States, particularly rural areas, public transportation may not be sufficient or available. In addition, bicycling and walking may not feel like safe or time-sensitive options. Thus, not being able to drive in certain communities can drastically restrict one’s independence and mobility.

In many communities across the country goods, services, and social connections cannot be accessed without a car. While many older people continue to drive safely to age 80 and beyond, some older people either give up the car keys by choice or by necessity (An interesting trend is the decline in the percentage of driver’s license across all age groups. In 2014, only 69% of 19 year-olds had a driver’s license.). As a result, people who cannot and those who elect to not drive may benefit the most from autonomous cards.

Unfortunately, older adults who live in rural areas may have to wait the longest to reap the benefits of autonomous cars. Streets have to be well mapped for the GPS and other technology to work and many predict that autonomous cars will be piloted to customers in a small number of urban areas and gradually expand to other areas. Furthermore, rain and snow can also muddle the sensors in autonomous vehicles, which could potentially prove problematic in South Dakota.

As autonomous cars are not currently available to customers, it is difficult to know for sure the true benefits they will offer to older adults and individuals with disabilities. Until autonomous cars are available, however, older adults have resources at AARP Driver Safety to keep them safe and on the road as long as possible.

Would you like to learn more about autonomous cars? Please check out our article called Autonomous Cars: Welcome to the Future to learn more.

References & Additional Readings

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