Self-Driving Cars and What They Can Mean For the Senior Driver

self driving car

Technology continues to define our experience behind the wheel. The GPS consoles that were the pricey add-on packages in new cars are slowly getting replaced by cell phone apps. Some cars have collision sensors now that can automatically stop before an accident occurs and the hope is that will go standard in a few years. Big things in small packages, they say. The latest change to our driving experience is indeed big in every way: the car itself is changing and soon will drive all on its own. At the forefront of this technological revolution are Google and Tesla but Big Auto can’t be counted out either. GM looks to partner with Lyft to make self-driving taxis a reality. Today I’m going to look at what this means for one of the largest populations of the USA: the senior citizen.

My view of self-driving cars for younger folks vs. seniors is vastly different. You see a kid that can’t parallel park and you think “Well parking assistance software really is a plus” but at the same time, will that kid ever really learn to do it themselves? That notion is put on steroids with a self-driving car: do we dull our skills or never fully develop them at all then? Do we end up with a generation of kids who can’t drive well, simply because they don’t need to? Maybe but that’s the dark side of the spectrum. However on the plus side, the self-driving car may be exactly what helps an aging population of Baby Boomers stay independent and at the same time, safer than previous generations of seniors.

Typically car crash statistics vary with age. Rates start out high with novice drivers and tend to decline over the life of the population until around age 70. At that point you still see a decreased instance of crash but you also an increased percentage of fatal crashes in seniors from age 70-85 years old, according to studies done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS]. This change in comparison goes very much against the trends of the population at large. It means seniors are driving less and ending up in fewer accidents but those who do are much more prone to be involved in a fatal crash.

So how can the self-driving car change the world for older drivers? They may just be safer option going to the grocery store or around town. Older folks often suffer from ailments that can make their own mobility and rigidity an issue; the ability to turn and look quickly at what’s behind you or in your blind spots essentially. Vision problems often become a greater concern with age as well. 33% of all fatal crashes involving seniors occurred at Intersections while failure to yield, improper left turns, and failure to obey a traffic light round out the top causes of crashes in finding by the IIHS. These are around-town driving issues, things that can happen in someone’s comfort zone. Having the ability to rely on a self-driving car as means to maintain independence while increasing safety in one’s later years is a great, great thing and I welcome it.

All that said, self-driving cars aren’t the norm just yet. And we won’t be at a point where putting thousands of computers in midtown gridlock at rush hour is a good idea for even longer. There are still too many scenarios out there developers haven’t even begun to ponder for a self-driving car. We’ll get there but not yet.

Here’s a really cool 90 second look at Google’s self-driving car:

So what can you do to protect yourself or a loved one if diminishing skill behind the wheel is a concern in the meantime? I recommend taking a Senior Driver Safety course from an established name like AARP. The AARP Smart Driver Course is a wonderful refresher that highlights to seniors the dangers of distracted driving, ailments and conditions that come with age to look out for, the effects of medication of driving, and of course, better driving techniques. It may also save you money on your insurance by taking one of these courses, as many providers offer premium discounts if you do!

Check out AARPDriverSafety.org today!

 

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