How Self-Driving Cars Could Improve Seniors’ Quality Of Life

June 27, 2019

In 2017, only 25% of Americans surveyed felt comfortable with the idea of riding in an autonomous vehicle (AV). More popularly referred to as “self-driving cars,” AVs have a long way to go before people accept them as safe, secure transportation alternatives. Older Americans, however, may be more open to this new technology. Self-driving card could help seniors age in place and maintain their independence.

Improved Safety and Independence for Seniors

Senior man hand detail while driving a car. Soft focus. Vintage tone.

The question of “when to give up the keys” can be a source of bitter arguments between generations. Older adults are understandably reluctant to stop driving because it represents a loss of independence. Particularly in areas that lack robust public transportation, someone without a car either has to beg rides from family and friends or pay high transportation costs for taxis or ride sharing services.

A recent AARP article on seniors and AVs explained:

“As the baby boomers continue to age, yet live healthier, longer lives, they’ll still want to travel,” Lesh adds. “People get scared to drive, often for good reason. And yet they want their independence, instead of always asking a family member, ‘Can you help me? Can you help me?’ In the studies we did, the cry from everyone, and not just the disabled, was, ‘I want my independence!’ It was not about safety issues.”

Should AVs become a reliable, available option, it would be a game changer for many seniors. The technology could improve quality of life in many ways, including:

  • Increased opportunity for social interaction: Many seniors experience loneliness, isolation, and depression – all of which can contribute to poor health outcomes and cognitive decline.
  • Delivery services: Currently, social service agencies like Meals on Wheels rely on human volunteers to deliver meals to homebound seniors who lack access to nutritious meals. If businesses and nonprofits adopt AV technology however, it would be easier for seniors to order/receive prepared meals, household staples, prescriptions, etc.
  • More options for people with disabilities: 61% of all US adults and 40% of seniors have some type of disability, with mobility and cognitive problems being most common. Self-driving vehicles could make it easier for these people to access medical care, run errands, and maintain stable employment.

This all sounds great, but there is a good bit of uncertainty about when this technology will be ready for wide use.  Are you ready?  Well, whether you personally have access to self-driving cars may depend on where you live – at least in the short term


Florida Takes an AV Test Drive

Smart car (HUD) concept. Empty cockpit in vehicle and Self-Driving mode car screen .


Florida, with its large population of retirees, is actively encouraging the AV research and use in the state.  A new state law goes into effect on July 1, 2019 that will allow self-driving vehicles with no safety drivers to use public roads in the state. However, the law also sets stringent requirements for the vehicles and requires safety and technology features that currently “don’t exist outside of various test programs.”

Florida’s governor signed that bill at the state’s SunTrax test facility that’s under construction.  SunTrax is a 475-acre AV testing facility will support testing in a number of simulated transportation environments, including “an urban area to simulate intersection configurations and complex lighting, signing, and signalization conditions.

Some Florida seniors may soon have the opportunity to sample AV transportation in a controlled environment – their retirement community. The Villages, one of the largest retirement communities in the world with 750 miles of road, has partnered with Voyage to deploy a fleet of self-driving taxis inside the complex.

When fully operational, all 125,000 residents will have the ability to summon a self-driving car to their doorstep using the Voyage mobile app, then travel anywhere within the bounds of the community fully autonomously. In the autonomous vehicle field, this level of driverless technology is called ‘Level 4 automation.’

Senior Safe Driving Technology That’s Available Now

In spite of the promise of AV technology, many industry experts think it may take years – even a decade or more – to perfect the technology and assuage public concerns and safety and reliability. That’s a long time for today’s seniors to wait!  Fortunately, automotive and safety advances are already making driving easier and safer for seniors (and everyone).

  • Smart car technologies: Automated braking assistance, backup cameras, blind spot warnings, and GPS navigation help seniors compensate for physical limitations associated with normal aging. Learn more about how technology can increase senior driving safety.
  • Mobile GPS Device: The Bay Alarm Medical Mobile GPS device that can be taken with you while our or on the road. GPS locator so that in the event of an emergency, dispatchers can locate where you are and relay that information to local emergency personnel. The Caregiver Tracking app is an added safety feature that allows family members to set up geo-location. It comes with an easy charging dock and can hold a charge up to 72 hours. It’s easy to take with you on the road or on vacation.

For seniors, driving is more than a convenience: it’s an expression of independence and self-sufficiency. However, driving is also a question of safety for the driver, passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians. Age alone doesn’t make you a safe (or unsafe) – driver, but unfortunately, some aspects of normal aging make driving more difficult.

Is widespread availability of self-driving cars in our future?  Only time – and technology – will tell.

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