When self-driving cars first arrived, they were hailed as a way for seniors to remain active and independent without needing to be able to drive.
After some initial skepticism by many, attitudes are changing, much of that seemingly dependent upon just how old you are, according to a new study sponsored by the National Council on Aging and Volkswagen Group of America.
About 70% of seniors said they were confident self-driving and ride-hailing services were safe. They also believed those services could play a critical role in performing the tasks outside of their homes critical to remaining independent.
Perhaps just as importantly, 75% of them said they expect to use those services in the future while 71% said they would be able to remain independent because of them. Depending upon where they live, they’ll have the option to do both as Ford and Lyft, General Motors and Cruise, Waymo and others are all in various stages of testing self-driving ride-hailing vehicles.
High tech solutions to senior problems
“Technology will play a key role in addressing challenges faced by older adults who are no longer able to drive,” said NCOA Senior Director Kathleen Cameron. “The five most important aspects of SDRH services for older adults are safety, quality of service, convenience, traffic, and overall comfort of riding in the vehicle.”
Self-driving cars and ride-hailing services can help fill the gap in mobility that occurs when seniors can no longer drive. For women, that means living an average of 10 years after giving up their keys. For men it’s a shorter period of time: seven years.
Although their ability or desire to drive is gone, their need to grocery shop, see friends and family, or go to the doctor doesn’t wane. In fact, when one factors in the medical care many seniors need, mobility becomes even more important.
Family members or other caregivers often fill the breach, but in many cases and areas, it’s not a simple proposition, the NCOA noted. In fact, 78% of caregivers provide or arrange 1.4 billion miles of daily or need-based travel annually.
Does this survey mean that Americans’ attitudes about self-driving vehicles has changed? Well, that depends upon who is being asked. AAA’s tracked consumer attitudes about autonomous technology for the last six years and, well, if you’re an automaker relying on big profits from self-driving cars, you may want to rethink the strategy — at least in the short term.
AAA’s most recent survey found that 14% of drivers would trust riding in a vehicle that drives itself, similar to last year’s results. However, 86% either said they would be afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle (54%) or are unsure about it (32%).
However, on a brighter note, full self-driving technology — Level 5 on the SAE scale — is still a long way off, giving companies plenty of opportunities to change the minds of Americans, AAA noted.“Transparent, accurate and frequent information from the industries involved in developing self-driving vehicles will ease consumer concerns,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations, earlier this year.