Report calls for accessibility standards for self-driving cars

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Accessibility of Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars have yet to go mainstream, but disability advocates are working to ensure they will be able to partake in the technology’s many promised benefits.

In a new report [PDF] released November 2, the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency, is calling on the federal government to regulate the emerging technology.

“Adopting the recommendations offered by NCD will ensure that people with disabilities are not left at the side of the road as self-driving technology is developed and advanced,” NCD Chair Clyde Terry said in a news release. “All Americans, including people with disabilities, should have an equal opportunity to benefit from and realize the freedom that fully autonomous vehicles promise to provide.”

The report, titled “Self Driving Cars: Mapping Access to a Technology Revolution,” begins with an overview of the status of existing technology of self-driving cars, which is being developed by companies ranging from Google to Tesla.

The NCD recommends that future federal research grants for self-driving vehicles be conditioned on their efforts to make their technology disability accessible.

Although most vehicle licensing is done at the state level, the NCD recommends that the federal government create national standards, to ensure they do not unnecessarily restrict drivers with disabilities. For states that fail to comply, the NCD recommends that the DOT withhold federal highway funds, similar to the incentives structure used in the 1980s for states to raise their minimum drinking ages.

Finally, the NCD calls on Congress to pass legislation for the purpose of creating accessibility standards in self-driving vehicles.

“Inaccessible transportation remains one of the biggest deterrents to employment and community involvement in the United States,” the report states. “Autonomous vehicles hold great promise to advance social inclusion by offering people with disabilities independent mobility to get to school, jobs and all places that Americans go each day.

“They offer the possibility of ending the isolation that many people who are aging experience by keeping them connected with others and to activities that are often lost when we lose the ability to drive.”