Friday, January 27, 2017

Self-Driving Cars: a Boon for People with Disabilities in Rural Areas?

By Eric Tegethoff, Northern Rockies News Service

BOISE, Idaho - Idaho and the rest of the country are preparing for self-driving cars to hit the roadways, and new research says the technology could help people with disabilities.

The report explored the ways autonomous cars could improve the lives of people with disabilities, including through employment opportunities and health care. Nearly 6 million such people have difficulties finding transportation, and Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said this population needs to be part of the discussion.

"What we're trying to say to these companies is, like, 'Hey, the technology is there, and you're going to continue to refine it and develop it, and make it better,' " he said. " 'As you do that, consider people with disabilities - because they can really not only benefit, but society can benefit.' They are the largest, untapped resource that we have in our country."

Ruderman said as many as 70 percent of people with disabilities in the United States are unemployed. Self-driving cars aren't yet a reality for consumers, although many car manufacturers and technology companies are investing in them.

A bill was introduced in the Idaho Senate in 2015 for regulating autonomous vehicles, but it failed.

The study said autonomous cars could not only improve opportunities for accessibility to work but save on health-care costs, too. It found more than 11 million medical appointments are missed every year for lack of adequate transportation, which amounts to about $19 billion in wasted health-care costs.

Kristina Kopic, who contributed to the study, said people who live in rural areas could benefit most.

"We think that, especially in rural areas that don't already have access to public transportation," she said, "self-driving technologies would be a boon, because you would really be allowing people curb-to-curb transportation."

Kopic said even paratransit, a product of the American Disabilities Act, can be exclusionary because it doesn't allow families to travel together when some don't have a disability, so, self-driving cars could become an inclusive form of transportation.

The study, commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America's Future Energy, is online at

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