I'm excited about a lot of things going on in the car industry these days. Some developments could result in reduced impact on the environment, which I think is great. But there's one prospect in particular I'm really hopeful about because it holds great promise for millions of aging baby boomers.
That prospect is for driverless cars, and they're closer to becoming a reality than you might think. Nevada was the first state to develop regulations for testing self-driving vehicles, and Hawaii, Oklahoma, Florida and Arizona have introduced bills that follow Nevada's lead.
A lot of car companies have been working on autonomous vehicles, and Google's self-driving cars already have driven themselves 200,000 miles in California, according to Bloomberg.
By the time the first baby boomer hits 80 in 14 years, these cars could be commercially available and more advanced than the models being developed now. Between age 80 and 90, a lot of people start to feel their reflexes, eyesight, hearing or some other ability is impaired, making them less confident, and less safe, driving. They may still be able to think clearly, but they can't react as fast as they once did. Giving up driving, especially if one lives anywhere but in a city with extensive mass transportation, means giving up flexibility and choices -- your lifestyle. But if nonagenarians could safely get around in their driverless cars, just think how that would help maintain their quality of life!
Driverless cars should also decrease the number of accidents because human error would be greatly reduced. That could also result in lower insurance costs. Another possibility might be that fewer people would own cars -- maybe instead of gas stations on corners there would be car depots that one would call to order a car whenever one needed to go somewhere.
Safety issues will need to be addressed and no doubt some early flaw may
cause unanticipated problems (a breakdown in a sensor? an unexpected
accident?). Liability issues could be a concern -- who is responsible if
something goes wrong and the car, not a person, was driving? Some
commentators have suggested that self-driving cars will lead to more
government intrusion in our lives. All these issues could be legitimate
concerns. But in my mind, they are dwarfed by the enormous potential of
True, we won't see widespread use of self-driving cars in the next year or two. But auto industry execs are predicting they'll be available sooner than was originally anticipated. Check out these recent videos on Google and BMW self-driving cars. Also, check out the work done by University of Texas Associate Professor Peter Stone and a team of engineers in designing autonomous intersection technology.