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Most people might associate self-driving cars as a luxury, great for letting us read the paper or surf the web while we drive,the ultimate extension of cruise control. I am not sure how that will further civilization but self-driving cars can change radically the lives of the disabled and the elderly. Small and cheap to operate, self-driving car can free what has been a 'captive' society. The true revolution will be in freeing the disabled from isolation, providing access to medical services, and a whole range of activities that will improve the health and quality of life of our senior citizens.
For many disabled the inability to get to medical services could be life threatening. The difficult task of getting to the doctors office can lead to medical care being deferred or neglected entirely. Frequent use of medical services has shown to increase the quality of life for the patient and preventing costly medical emergencies. Self-driving cars could lead to an increase in preventative and rehabilitation services, especially in suburban services where public transportation is unavailable or inconvenient and taxi and ride services are too expensive. Increased access to healthcare will improve the life of the patient and has shown to reduce overall health costs.
Self-driving cars could help the disabled commute to work. Some states are already facing shortages of experienced employees and many disabled or elderly workers are unable to get to work. Harnessing a previously home-bound labor force could help alleviate labor shortages.
There is still years, if not a decade of testing until self-driving cars are safe and cheap enough for the general population. Instead of developing them for a lazier population, perhaps we should make sure that it will also benefit an aging one. The implications for the aging and the disabled are life-changing and could be revolutionary for our society.