February 17, 2019 — A potential solution to one of the biggest problems facing older retirees is on the road in The Villages, the world’s largest retirement community. Voyage, an automated taxi service, is testing driverless cars within parts of that community’s road system. If successful, the project will help older residents enjoy the freedom and mobility that comes with a car – even if they are not behind the wheel of that vehicle.
To begin with a certain number of “pioneers’ are able to use these taxis at no charge. The pioneers can call up a driverless car to go shopping, doctor’s appointments, recreation, visit friends – whatever they can reach within the neighborhoods involved in the test. The cars have a backup “driver” and a top speed of 25 m.p.h.
Giving up driving
Losing the independence that comes with hopping in one’s car and taking off is one of the most frightening things that awaits older Americans. It is said that the average person lives 10 years longer than their driving ability, while 8 million people over 65 do not drive at all. In many cases older people continue to drive because of a mixture of pride and practicality – how else are they going to get where they need to go. Until driver tests or the intervention of family members take away the keys, most people want to keep on driving, even if they have become a risk to themselves and others.
Transportation on demand
Not being able to drive oneself for important tasks is costly and inconvenient. One estimate is that over 3 million older citizens miss medical appointments every year because of transportation issues. In other cases people hate to be a burden to friends and neighbors, so trips to shopping, community events, social engagements, and recreation just don’t happen. Isolation is the result.
Will they be accepted?
One huge barrier to the success of driverless cars has already emerged. Older Americans are less tech oriented and more risk adverse than younger ones. Some 67% of of people over 50 say they would not use an autonomous taxi. However, almost the same percentage said they would be willing to own a self-driving car. As people become more comfortable with services like Uber and Lyft, as well as other tech-transformed products, it is hoped that older people will become more accepting of driverless taxis.
If successful and expanded across the nation, driverless cars might be a revolutionary solution in the world of retirement. More people will be able to stay in their current homes longer, because they can get to wherever they want to go just by ordering one of these cars. Isolation, one of the biggest problems for older Americans, will be less of a problem. Retirees will be happier because they can experience the same freedom to roam that they had when they were younger. And other Americans will be safer too, because millions of unsafe drivers will be off the roads.
Driverless cars bring up a host of provocative questions. Would you be willing to ride in a car that has no driver? How willing would you be to give up your driver’s license if a friend or relative told you they didn’t think you were no longer a safe driver? Will driverless cars change your thinking about where you retire? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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