Autonomous Vehicles and People With Disability

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Reliable transport is not something which can be taken for granted. People may complain about congested public or traffic jams in the public transport sector, however, they manage to reach their final destinations in a manner which does not disturb their lives and activities. In the U.S there is more than one automobile for each driver with a license.  The statistic is a revelation of the reality that people need transportation to take part in the contemporary economy and to keep an effective and meaningful social life. The transport sector is one of the largest both in the United States and the world at large, touching every aspect of the economy.  It is worth noting that in every seven job opportunities, one is closely related to the transport sector. Besides, investment in transport innovation is a fundamental contributor of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the U.S.  In the contemporary world, the significance of the transport industry can never be underrated.  Nonetheless, while the U.S has taken massive steps in increasing accessibility to transport services to the public, access remains a big challenge to people living with disability. A survey carried out in 2003 reveals that 15 million American citizens have a problem getting transport services, including disabled people whose figure stands above six million people.  The paper seeks to establish the policy recommendations which can be made to the automakers and the federal government regulators in its quest to promote and roll out cars which can move without drivers so as to meet the transport needs of the handicapped population.


The disability community

The government, automakers, and other stakeholders should foster the establishment of a coalition made of sections of the disability community which can quickly respond to developments and guide the government and car manufacturers (Wagner et al., 2014). It will be important for in future that all interested parties;  disability, government, and industry representatives to organize forums and speak boldly and loudly with a common voice on the transport needs for the people with disability. These individuals should work together to find solutions which will increase transport services and increase accessibility to people with disability (Wagner et al., 2014).

The coalition of key stakeholders should move swiftly and work towards several key objectives. First, it will be essential to foster the public’s knowledge of probable government actions on driverless car policy and the impacts of such plans for people living with disability at the federal and state levels (Wagner et al., 2014). Moreover, an alliance of disability advocacy groups should interact with leading industry players to offer feedback on particular technical concerns regarding the development, design, and testing stages of the proposed cars (Wagner et al., 2014). Besides, the alliance should work with federal and state agencies governing automobile usage to provide room for input from the local disability communities. Further, the association should examine and form a survey agenda whose objectives focus on further assessment on the transportation requirements and problems people with disability face in their quest to seek transport services. The study findings should lead to developments of recommendations on the strategies to put in place to increase universal accessibility in both the present and future transport networks (Wagner et al., 2014).

The government

1. There should be no need to a highly automated car to have a licensed driver

It is not easy for people with disabilities to acquire a valid and authentic driving license. It is very difficult for people with some mental and physical disabilities to obtain a valid driving license under the present regulatory conditions (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015). For instance, people with epilepsy, may suffer temporary limitations on driving until the medical examinations ascertain that there is health improvement in these individuals. In any case, demanding for autonomous automobile passengers to possess valid driving license will be an unnecessary limitation which would significantly hinder the potential advantages of autonomy to individuals belonging in the disability community (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015).  While it is very important for people to have valid driving licenses in the contemporary setting, a spontaneous evolution of technology which allows autonomy of vehicles for the redevelopment of an updated regulatory system (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015).

Vehicles with superior automation features and which fall under the category of “society of automotive engineers” (SAE) level 5 or 4 provide tremendous standards of safety advantages and can easily eliminate the number of road accidents which stand at around six million annually (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is on record by stating through its released strategy regarding the autonomous vehicles that and approved that no particular licenses or operators should be required for people using highly automated vehicles (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015).  If policymakers and regulators hold and maintain such positions, then people with disability stand a better chance of dramatic benefits because of enhanced mobility, a view which has seemed for these people for many years. Nevertheless, the policy is presently not binding and NHTSA policy measures are expected to undergo considerable amendments in future to allow the use of automated vehicles with limited or no regulations (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015).

The federal administration is encouraged to intensify its stand that cars with superior automation features should not require its driver to be an holder of a valid driver’s license (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015). Further, state administration should follow the same route and should not attempt to enact laws which overrule this policy and demand for a licensed person in a vehicle which does not need a human driver (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015). The reason in this stance is that the car is the driver not the boarding passenger. Thus, this stance should not hurt on the state’s capacity to regulate licensing of human drivers. If deemed significant, the Congress need to intervene, mediate and clarify using modern or updated legislative phrases (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015).

2. The local, state, and federal governments need to encourage entities to establish pilot programs for automated vehicles which concentrate on promoting autonomy and foster mobility for the aging and disability community.

The testing efforts of automated vehicles happening across the U.S and deployment practices expected shortly afterward is a promising sign of advancement (McGehee et al., 2016). Besides, new programs across the U.S are being initiated by technology firms, traditional car manufacturers, startup enterprises and other players in the automobile and transport sector. There is no doubt that autonomous car technology is growing rapidly and it should be tapped to enhance the lives of disabled people (McGehee et al., 2016).

There is a massive potential for autonomous cars to tremendously increase mobility. Though it may take some time for full autonomy to be realized, this is the perfect time for people and other relevant stakeholders to look at the best and creative ways of utilizing the technology (McGehee et al., 2016).  Currently the pilot test on autonomous cars, for example the ones run in Fort Bragg confirm that it is indeed possible to utilize the technology in its present state (McGehee et al., 2016).  While the technology presents possibilities that the it can advance with time, it is not advisable to wait until level 5 autonomy is attained (McGehee et al., 2016).

Up to this point all government ranks especially at the local and state levels should promote the use of autonomous vehicle pilots for underserved groups, for example the aging groups and the ones with disabilities (McGehee et al., 2016). These pilot testing of automated vehicles will showcase the economic benefits to government administrators and the private sector, and establish the phases of advancing mass societal advantages as the technology matures. In case some states decline to take necessary actions to incorporate the underprivileged, the federal administration has adequate structures which will ensure compliance, for instance reducing eligibility requirements for some grants covered by the Highway Trust Fund (McGehee et al., 2016).


1. Developers and manufacturers of autonomous car technology should advance SAE level 4 goods and services which provide access immediately the technology is deemed viable, while collecting feedback from disabled people at the testing the testing phase.

Various institutions are running trials on the feasibility of autonomous vehicles. More deployment and trial exercises should be done in the present and future. Technology creators should gather and consider advice from different groups of individuals from the disability section and aging people while planning trials and initial deployments (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015). The feedback should be gathered from frequent and ongoing workshops which permit public participation. Such discussions should be held at every stage of public testing and continue even after deployment of the vehicles (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015).  

The responsible institutions should hasten the distribution of level 4 vehicles immediately after technical feasibility has been approved to accelerate the enjoyment of the benefits to underprivileged groups (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015). Further, a section of the trial deployments should be advanced with contributions from key stakeholders to reveal the social and economic benefits of raised access to mobility (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015).


1. The U.S department in charge of transport should establish a center to organize and carry out ongoing discussions on the development, testing, and distribution of highly automated automobiles.

The NHTSA which is under the department of transport can preside over the discussions through erection of a resource center to promote public knowledge of the federal government automation policy (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015). The center will offer a platform for a dialogue and public participation on important elements advanced by the plan and shed light on how this disruptive transportation technology can be adopted into the U.S roads as its development takes place (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015).  Besides, the resource center will offer a model practice which educates consumers on the utilization and operation of innovations by old people and ones with disabilities (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015). Lastly, the resource center can be a place for developing and continue to draft a document which establish best practices elaborating on how manufacturers should react to certain safety requirements enforced by the NHTSA as provided by the federal government automation policy (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015)..

In addition to the resource center, a recommendation is made to the Transport Department to plan and facilitate a public-private partnership with the purpose of developing cars with universal designs which are both technologically and economically feasible. The Congress carries the responsibility of authorizing these recommendations (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015).

The programs developed will work with technology and automakers to provide accessibility into an automobile’s design with human interfaces where possible for easy usability for people with disabilities and the aging individuals (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015). For those people who use wheelchairs, engineering adjustments can make it cheaper and easier to retrofit vehicles in future days (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015). For the deaf and blind, they can benefit from certain visual, tactile, or oral cues which assist them to effectively use the vehicle (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015). The public-private partnership (PPP) should cooperate and work with manufacturers to specifically draft more guidelines on the universal design principles which can be added into the vehicles with level 5 and 4 functional features (Lari, Douma & Onyiah, 2015).

2.   The Department of the U.S need to conduct more research on the transportation requirements of disabled people

People with disabilities spend a significant amount of their income on transport than physically normal individuals (Harper et al., 2016). Besides, most of them utilize public institutions for example Medicaid to acquire transport services, however, the unavailability of the desperately needed services is the source of frustration to many people with disabilities (Harper et al., 2016). The automated cars can in future replace public transportation programs or paratransit programs accorded to physically challenged people (Harper et al., 2016).

Benefits of better transport services

The innovation, development, and utilization of autonomous cars will assist in breaking down transportation barriers for people with disabilities. It is true that there are other factors which hinder people with disabilities, but the reduction of the negative effects which arise due to transportation problems will bring forth massive positive impacts. This section analyzes the benefits which emanate from better transport services for people with various forms of disability.

Greater employment opportunities

The transport challenge which disabled people face is one prime reason their income is lower. Moreover, inaccessibility of transport services makes it difficult for this group of people to obtain steady or fulltime employment.  Further, it is not easy to establish the exact number of people who miss job opportunities because they face transportation problems (Harper et al., 2016). Thus, accessible, cheaper, and reliable transportation can open access to job opportunities and thus higher income. Higher earnings means higher purchasing power hence equipping disabled people with the capacity to gain financial independence, afford necessities and other household needs. Besides, they will gain the financial capacity to spend on local economies, and thus integrate fully with the rest of the society members (Harper et al., 2016).

Community living and transportation

For a person with a disability or functional limitation such as reading, working or thinking which limits them from driving, accessible, reliable, and regular transportation helps them enjoy and exercise their rights and optimize their independence (Gurney, 2013). The situation is applicable for persons in all age groups. Older people prefer to stay in their homes and receive any important support and social services within their community (Gurney, 2013). Innovative transportation services can assist people with disability enjoy the activities which normal people do not take seriously. Besides, better and enhanced transport services will grant people with disability the chance to fully integrate with the rest of the community (Gurney, 2013).

As people age they naturally experience cognitive and functional decline. Thus, the introduction of new and efficient transportation options, the elderly and people with poor health will access reliable transport services after driving becomes dangerous or too difficult to do.  Besides, it will ease the emotional blows which ensue as a result of conversations which seek to stop an elderly relative to stop driving (Gurney, 2013).

Health spending and transportation

Personal health management always require traveling to seek medical services. It can be very difficult for people with disability who needs medical attention and it cannot be easy for these people especially when looking for chronic disease medication (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015). On average poor transport services raise transportation costs as lack of management of chronic diseases magnifies small problems, which could been managed at a relatively lower cost into an expensive medical attention (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015).  Transportation is a significant factor for people with disabilities especially the American veterans who exhibit higher prevalence for chronic diseases which require keen healthcare attention (Thierer & Hagemann, 2015).

Studies carried out by the Ruderman Family Foundation and SAFE in 2005 revealed that an estimated 4.3 million people living with disability face compelling transport limitations when they attempt to travel to hospital to complete their medical appointments (Wagner et al., 2014).   For several classes of chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart failure, renal failure, mental health and diabetes, the research revealed that people with such chronic diseases further suffer significant travel problems because of inaccessibility of transport services (Wagner et al., 2014). Thus, the search for transport services increase the cost of seeking medication which could have been avoided if proactive transport measures such as implementation of driverless cars are put in place (Wagner et al., 2014). For instance, regular visits to a primary care physician by a person living with diabetes can help keep the disease under control. However, the cost of these regular transport services escalates especially when the an individual needs hospitalization (Gurney, 2013).


The paper sought to establish the policy recommendations which can be advanced to government policymakers and automobile manufacturers in its quest to foster and roll out cars which move with no drivers to meet transport service need for the disabled. Transportation is a significant social service which allows people to fulfill their civic duties and allow people enjoy their civil rights. When disability reduces access to transport services, then the affected individuals’ chances of accessing economic opportunities reduce, isolation and a diminished quality of life which can worsen the health status ensue.  Reducing the transport-related challenges for people with disability will open massive job opportunities for a large number of disabled people. As innovative technologies such as mobility solutions and autonomous cars surge into the market, they offer a massive potential of reducing transportation difficulties for people with disabilities.


Gurney, J. K. (2013). Sue my car not me: Products liability and accidents involving autonomous vehicles. U. Ill. JL Tech. & Pol'y, 247.

Harper, C. D., Hendrickson, C. T., Mangones, S., & Samaras, C. (2016). Estimating potential increases in travel with autonomous vehicles for the non-driving, elderly and people with travel-restrictive medical conditions. Transportation research part C: emerging technologies, 72, 1-9.

Lari, A., Douma, F., & Onyiah, I. (2015). Self-driving vehicles and policy implications: current status of autonomous vehicle development and minnesota policy implications. Minn. JL Sci. & Tech., 16, 735.

McGehee, D. V., Brewer, M., Schwarz, C., & Smith, B. W. (2016). Review of Automated Vehicle Technology: Policy and Implementation Implications. Iowa Department of Transportation: Ames, IA, USA.

Thierer, A., & Hagemann, R. (2015). Removing roadblocks to intelligent vehicles and driverless cars. Wake Forest JL & Pol'y, 5, 339.

Wagner, J., Baker, T., Goodin, G., & Maddox, J. (2014). Automated vehicles: Policy implications scoping study (No. SWUTC/14/600451-00029-1). Southwest Region University Transportation Center, Texas A & M Transportation Institute, Texas A & M University.

September 04, 2023


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