Here’s an interview with me in the latest Wall Street Journal on the subject of robocars and seniors.
This has always been a tricky question. Seniors are not early adopters, so the normal instinct would be to expect them to fear a new technology as dramatic as this one. Look at the market for simplified cell phones aimed at seniors who can’t imagine why they want a smartphone. Not all are like this, but enough are to raise the question.
Sometimes this barrier is broken. Pictures of grandchildren in e-mail brought grandparents online, as did video calls with them. Necessity overcomes the fear of change.
As people get older, they start losing driving ability. They die more often in accidents, eventually surpassing the rates of reckless teens, because they are more fragile, and they make mistakes that cause other people to hit them. Many seniors report troubles with vision at night, and they stop driving at night. In some cases, they get their licences taken away by the state — though the AARP and others fight this so it’s rare — or their kids take away their keys when things get really dangerous. And the kids become a taxi service for their parents.
The boomer generation, which took over the suburbs and exurbs have nice houses with minimal transit. Some find themselves leaving that home because they can’t drive any more and they will become a shut-in if they don’t do something.
The robocar offers answers to many of these problems. Safe transportation for those with disabilities. (Eventually even mild dementia.) Inexpensive taxi transportation anywhere, including those low-transit suburbs. And a chance to video chat with the grandchildren while on the way.
It’s no surprise that retirement communities are discussed as an early deployment zone for robocars. In those communities, you have a controlled street environment — often with heavy use of NEVs/golf carts already. You have people losing the ability to drive who have limited mobility needs. If they can get to basic shopping and a few other locations (including transit hubs to travel further) they can do pretty well.
Until the robocar came along, we were all doomed to lose the freedom cars gave us. This is no longer going to happen.