EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 13, 2014

Self-driving cars could keep seniors in the driver's seat


The self-driving car may also allow us to reduce the risk that older drivers pose to themselves and others, Mr. Magoo-ing about our roadways. As physical and mental degeneration occurs and reaction times slow, aging drivers can lose faith in their abilities or find their capacities fail them. As you may have surmised from exasperating personal experience, metered freeway onramps, the porte-cochere at the Beverly Hills Hotel, intersections and yield lanes pose a particular challenge.

And then there’s the risk factor. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the collision rate for older drivers is among the highest of any age group. Seniors are surpassed only by teenagers and entitled millennials when it comes to per capita insurance damage claims. And older drivers have one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities per mile driven, in part because they lack resilience to recover from injuries sustained.

Lest you think this is a niche problem concentrated among cravat-wearing Buick pilots in Palm Springs, think again. Between now and 2020, the California population of seniors is projected to grow at a rate twice as fast as the state’s total population.

Among the oldest subset of this demographic, that increase is expected to jump more than 300% in several counties, nearly all of them far from the density and public transport offered in urban areas. And that’s before the lurking glut of baby boomers starts to turn 85 around 2030. By then, up to a quarter of the nation’s licensed drivers will be older than 85.

A fully autonomous vehicle, with a constant 360-degree range of view and instantaneous response times, will act faster and more accurately than the average human — and certainly faster and more accurately than my grandma’s few remaining friends — keeping everyone on the road safer.

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