For most of the 20th century, society dreamed of self-driving vehicles. As we get closer to realizing that dream, it's become apparent there are additional benefits that dreamers from the 1930s and 1960s World's Fairs probably never imagined. Not only do fully autonomous cars promise more safety and efficiency on the road; they may also be a huge boon for senior mobility and cost savings.
Many seniors run up against two key issues: limited mobility and limited finances. Both of these issues are compounded by the fact that most seniors still need to get around with their own vehicles, and those vehicles cost money to maintain and insure.
While seniors are not paying the highest car insurance rates of all drivers (that award goes to everyone 25 and younger), research shows car insurance rates begin to rise after an individual turns 55 years old. This is a troublesome trend for seniors 75 or older, whose median annual income is around $46,000. Even seniors 65 or older will begin to see their average annual incomes drop, even as their health care costs rise. As a result, seniors may start seeing a huge imbalance between their income and their expenses, leading to a situation where a car can be more of a problem than a solution.
Self-Driving Cars for Seniors
Some companies are looking to help seniors maintain their mobility and reduce their costs through the use of self-driving vehicles. A few startups, such as Voyage, are experimenting with offering fleets of self-driving cars to retirement communities in high-vehicle cost areas such as California and Florida. In these places, mobility issues and fixed incomes are common.
These vehicles can operate like ride-sharing services (think Uber or Lyft). Seniors can use a mobile device to call the vehicle to their home, have it take them to different locations, and have it pick them back up and take them home later.
With such autonomous ride-sharing options, seniors can maintain a significant level of independence without having to rely on their adult children or family members, many of whom live too far away to assist on a regular basis. Not only can seniors easily use the services to perform basic chores, such as grocery shopping; they can call on the ride-sharing vehicles to enhance their social lives.
Importantly, fully autonomous vehicles may present a safer alternative to traditional taxi services and even the newer ride-sharing options that now exist on the market. Seniors using the service may feel uncomfortable with a human driver they don't know. And while Uber or Lyft are vaunted for their low cost, eliminating the human element could also reduce the cost for seniors.
Reducing Hazards and Saving Money
Driving is always dangerous, regardless of age. One of the promises of autonomous vehicles is a remarkably safer drive. Despite a few scare stories about autonomous vehicle accidents, most self-driving accidents have been a result of human error.
For seniors, handing over control to the autonomous vehicle can help reduce the known hazards of driving, especially in high-traffic areas where accidents are common, in poor weather conditions and at night.
There are other risks associated with driving. The medical costs following an accident can be higher for seniors. The Centers for Disease Control notes that there is an increased risk of injury or death following an accident for seniors.
Ditching car ownership for seniors means dropping the average annual maintenance costs (around $8,500), and the average insurance rate for seniors (around $1,700 to $2,400, which increases with age). Those seniors who want to keep their cars and still use self-driving car services can still reduce their costs, as maintenance costs for rarely used cars drops significantly.
It's yet to be seen just how well seniors will take to using autonomous vehicles as their daily chauffeurs. Indeed, much of the U.S. driving public is still wary of driving cars. Nevertheless, car companies and many AI researchers and futurologists see autonomous vehicles as an inevitable path forward.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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