The Promise of Self-Driving Cars

ImageA few years back, my sister went to her mother-in-law’s house to take away her car keys.  Alzheimer’s disease had taken hold of Joan, and it was no longer safe for her to drive to the supermarket and the beauty parlor. She gave the keys up without too much fuss, but it was an emotional moment. She lost her last strands of independence.

My parents have been closely following stories about Google’s self-driving car. They hope that the technology will be in place in the next ten years, so they don’t have to face the indignity of the removal of their car keys. They know what that means. My mother has a collection of older women that she shuffles to appointments and to the supermarket. Out here in the burbs, there isn’t adequate public transportation, so old people rely on the kindness of relatives and neighbors.

Timothy Lee discusses the incredible benefits of self-driving cars, but misses out on the obvious winners: the oldies.

12 thoughts on “The Promise of Self-Driving Cars

  1. The po-po took my mom’s license. Fortunately there was no accident or any problem beyond inability to find her way home. The doctor had said she was O.K. to drive from home to church, but once you call 911 to find somebody, it’s over for driving.


  2. Good point that self-driving cars will be a help to the aging population. Although, they won’t replace investments in public transportation as far as helping the greatest number of people. The expense of maintaining a car is beyond a lot of low income seniors. What we consider suburban in Maine would pass for rural in many places and is almost devoid of public transportation. As we all know, it’s a huge problem for an aging population. There’s an interesting service, though, that has emerged locally which provides driving services for the elderly for reasonable rates primarily using donated vehicles. Reliable rides are available for a reasonable fee, but seniors who can no longer drive can also donate their vehicles to this organization and thereby secure for themselves no- or extremely low-cost transportation indefinitely. With an aging population, we’re going to need all the solutions we can get to our current transportation issues. Self driving cars will certainly help, but we need to invest in affordable public transportation in currently underserved areas.


  3. Why do people live in the suburbs? I understand the part about schools for children, but I don’t understand why anyone without children at home would live there.


    1. Not being able or willing to drive is a reason many people live in the city. My neighborhood is full of old people as you can walk to most daily necessities even if you can’t manage to go faster than a shuffle. And really, you haven’t seen jaywalking done right until you see it done by a man using a walker crossing the street in the middle of the block while there is a road work that has detoured traffic from one direction of an interstate highway onto the road being crossed.


  4. People move to the suburbs to get access to better schools and backyards to their children. They don’t move back to the city, after the kids are grown, because they now have deep ties with neighbors and the community. They have grown to love the town memorial day parade and they know the names of the local store keepers. They love growing roses in their backyard. Maybe, their grandchildren live in town.

    They also can’t afford an apartment in nicer neighborhoods in NYC. They won’t be able to afford an apartment with laundry facilities in the building or doormen to help with their packages. They won’t be able to afford a weekend house in the country to get access to clear air and nature.


  5. I’m excited about this prospect too, partly so my parents can use it but also because I live three hours from them, with no public transportation available, and anticipate a time when I will want to drive home every weekend, or for an important doctor’s visit midweek. It would be great to be able to work or relax during the trip.


  6. Also, I live in a rural area, where it will never be effective to have public transportation.

    Why do people live anywhere? Their families and their friends are there, they like their house, their garden, their restaurants, their view of the sunset.


  7. NPR did a good bit about this a while back that I’ve been using as the basis of an in-class activity (you be the bureaucrat and write the regulations). At any rate, my students have consistently said they think you should have to pay attention in self-driving cars. Clearly, they don’t have to deal with having kids in multiple activities, older parents, etc. I keep telling them to come back and see me in 20 years or so at which point they will be thanking their lucky stars for self-driving card.


  8. When I was in highschool I was a box boy at a grocery store. There were several retirement or assisted living facilities in the neighborhood, so we had lots of older people come to the store. One of the saddest things I remember was a nice older couple who could no longer drive (mostly vision reasons, I think) trying to figure out what to do. At first they got a larger trash can that had wheels, thinking they could put the groceries in it and take it home. It didn’t really work. Then the husband got a ridding lawn mower, disengaged the blade, and put a box on the front. I only saw that a few times, so probably someone told them to stop, or it had trouble w/ the speed bumps. I suppose a wagon would have been best, but I don’t think they tried that. It made a big impression on me, and was the first time I really thought about getting old and losing independence.


    1. Yes- I’d see them a lot when I lived in NY City and people walked to where they shopped for the most part. But, in Idaho at the time they were not common, and I suspect these people didn’t know about them, even if they were easily available. (They might not have been, given the situation.)


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