Autonomous Vehicles: Along for the Ride
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There are many applications for autonomous
automotive vehicles that, in simple terms, “drive
themselves,” and people with mobility-related
disabilities could be among the consumers to
While adaptive automotive equipment such
as hand controls and wheelchair securement
systems already make it possible for many
wheelchair users to drive (and automotive
ramps and lifts enable them to ride as passengers),
adding autonomous vehicles to the mix could offer
independent mobility to an even greater range of consumers. Imagine a parent with very high-level quadriplegia, for instance, being
able to participate in the neighborhood carpool on school days. Or a
college student with cerebral palsy and severe tone issues being able
to get to school via his own car.
No more waiting at bus stops in severe weather. No more booking
rides with shared-ride systems that can be overwhelmed with high
volumes of calls. No more needing to hope that a cab or ride-share
driver won’t be scared off by the idea of transporting a consumer plus
a wheelchair and possibly a service animal.
The promise of commercially available autonomous vehicles is
enormous, but as with any emerging technology, the landscape is also
filled with questions, as well as a sense of urgency so that the many and
complex perspectives of people with disabilities are included as early
as possible in decision-making processes.
Chuck Hardy, NMEDA’s VP of quality assurance
and compliance, says the organization composed
of dealers, manufacturers, service providers and
driver rehabilitation clinicians is already working
to be front and center on this issue.
“We’ve been given the green light to form a
task force to look at autonomous vehicles and
how they’re going to impact our industry and
what kind of influence we can have,” he says,
adding that the main goal is “to make sure we
have a voice in the whole process. We want to be
on the front end of this.”
It’s a topic sure to be discussed at the annual NMEDA conference, to
be held Feb. 14-16 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“Right now, the challenge has been finding out who has been
involved in the efforts and how we can get involved,” says Hardy, who
says he has spoken, for instance, with a university whose rehab science
school would also like to participate. “Like any competitive industry,
there are a lot of people keeping quiet.”
Ultimately, NMEDA would like to be intimately involved in the autonomous
vehicle realm to ensure the voices of its members and consumers
with mobility-related disabilities are accurately and well represented.
“We’re trying to figure out who’s got their hands in the pot right
now, so we can figure out — can we join the board, can we be on an
advisory panel?” Hardy says. “We don’t want to see the industry evolve
without some input from the adaptive community.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Mobility Management.