Will Autonomous Cars Allow The Elderly To Stay On The Road Forever?

Autonomous Car

How old is too old when the car does all the driving?

Here at CarBuzz, it’s no secret that autonomous cars kind of scare the crap out of us. Look at this top list saying as much! Or you can read this editorial written by yours truly about how the future of cars will involve drivers driving and AIs…AI-ing. As much as we rail against a distant future filled with cars that drive without human aid, we know things are trending that way. However, one thing we don’t normally consider is how the rise of autonomous cars will affect the elderly. Yes, we’re talking about grandpa and grandma.

It’s a major stereotype that the elderly are awful drivers. However, the fact of the matter is that your physical abilities and mental sharpness degrade as you get older. Driving does not require intense physical effort or a high IQ, but you do need to be alert, be able to make quick adjustments and have good eyesight. Getting older chips away at these things, which in turn creates worse drivers. But are older drivers with diminished skills actually dangerous? Well, it’s tricky. A Caring.com survey put the number of accidents or near-accidents caused by elderly drivers (age 65+) in the US at 14 million for the year 2014. Note that this survey doesn’t measure the severity of the accidents and includes folks who weren’t even in a crash at all.

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According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), elderly drivers are much more likely to harm themselves and their passengers in the event of an accident. “In 2013, 75 percent of people killed in crashes involving a driver 70 or older were either the older driver themselves (61 percent) or their older passengers (15 percent).” The IIHS also says that drivers age 60 and older kill fewer pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and occupants of other vehicles than do drivers ages 30-59. So, seniors aren’t exactly killing machines when behind the wheel, which is good. However, there is still an issue with elders driving much longer than is safe to do so. That’s where autonomous cars come in.

While current tech only allows for limited autonomous features, such as Tesla’s Autopilot and the wide variety of park assist features available, automakers are busting ass to create self-driving cars. Hell, Audi thinks that autonomous cars could kill domestic flights in 20 years. BMW says it has autonomous tech in the works that allow cars to safely drive themselves at speeds of up to 74 mph. And look at what Mercedes-Benz made! If cars start to drive and park themselves, how long will people be allowed to drive for? Removing the human element removes the margin for human error. The IIHS says that seniors are more likely to be involved in angle crashes, overtaking or merging crashes and wrecks in intersections.

No matter how bad grandpa’s eyes or reactions are, the computer in the car of tomorrow will be able to make the adjustment to prevent such wrecks. All that makes it fair to say that the seniors of tomorrow will be on the road longer than the seniors of today. But how old is too old? Someone who is 100 probably shouldn't be driving today, but that will change when all driving consists of is pressing "Stop" and "Start." Operating a car is inherently risky and the consequences for making a mistake can be dire. However, if cars do eventually become lounges on wheels then why the hell shouldn’t grandpa and grandma drive themselves to see hologram Jimmy Buffet in concert on their 60th wedding anniversary?

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