A new report shines light on the possibilities of more equitable autonomous transportation
The hype over driverless cars often paints pictures of the incredible freedom riders and former drivers would obtain when they can take their hands off the wheel and let the car do the work. The futuristic life of leisure, however, doesn’t always take into account the significant population of Americans for whom any regular transportation access would be revolutionary. For those with disabilities, access to public transportation, much less control of their own vehicle and life, would be empowering. The possibilities of autonomous vehicles designed for everyone could impact a huge swath of the population: a recent government report found that 6 million Americans with disabilities have difficulty getting the transportation they need.
According to a new report, Self-Driving Cars: The Impact on People with Disabilities, released yesterday by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), the potential of driverless vehicles to liberate Americans with disabilities from transportation issues, bring more people into the workforce, and save substantially on health care, is vast. By engaging with government and private industry to make sure that tech firms and carmakers address the needs of drivers with disabilities, the report suggests new transportation options can be designed that would create 2 million more job opportunities and save $19 billion annually in health care costs.
The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates equal access to transportation, was supposed to help Americans with disabilities get around. But decades after its passage in 1990, the promise of equality hasn’t been met, especially when it comes to employment. Transportation is one of the key hurdles. A 2003 Department of Transportation study found 45 percent of Americans with disabilities didn’t have access to a passenger vehicle.
Public transportation systems often lack full access for riders with disabilities and only cover certain parts of the country, streets don’t always have proper access for wheelchairs, and public paratransit systems, which allows riders to book trips in advance, are often crowded and offer minimal access. Agencies that run these services often run with high operating costs and don’t have the resources to provide reliable and convenient services. According to Andrew Houtenville, an expert on disabilities at the University of New Hampshire, “there is no expectation whatsoever that paratranist will perform to the level necessary.”
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