Driverless cars are not just a thing of the future, they will be on our roads sooner than we think. Testing is already underway and driverless public transport passenger shuttles are being introduced at airports now.
There will be much debate about the legal implications of driverless cars. Who is responsible in the event of an accident, the driver or the car? Amongst considerations of the law, insurance, safety and environmental impact, the implications for the disabled arising from what is, in many ways, a new form of personal transport could easily be overlooked.
Those familiar with the massive improvements in quality of life achieved by the use of assistive technology will immediately recognise the potential of “cyber transport”. Compensation claims for the severely disabled who have been injured in an accident already routinely include a sum of money to purchase technology that will enable the injured person to retain a degree of control in their everyday lives. Retaining a meaningful degree of personal autonomy via a computer is something that would not have been possible even 10 years ago. IT systems enable those who have lost the power of speech to communicate, those unable to walk to regain mobility and even those who are completely paralysed to use computer systems controlled entirely by eye movements. Simple actions such as turning on the television, opening the curtains or answering the front door can all be carried out by some one with a high level of disability, provided the appropriate technology is available to them.
The prospect of an individual with a profound disability having the freedom to travel where and when they wish in a driverless car is enticing. In the USA experts in assistive technology are already considering the possibility that it may enable blind or partially sighted people to return to the roads, primarily to allow a return to work where using public transport presents an insurmountable barrier to free movement. Whilst employers may not be permitted to discriminate against disabled job applicants, it may well be legitimate to ask all candidates how they will travel to work each day. If the disabled candidate has the same access to personal transport as the able bodied, one barrier to employment for the disabled may have been overcome.
The reality may, at least for the foreseeable future, be a little less liberating. In the first instance it is expected that law and regulation will require a driver in the vehicle able to take over control from the computer system at any time, which may not be possible for all disabled drivers. Similarly, it is not merely the act of driving which limits access to transport for the disabled. Access to a vehicle may in itself require the assistance of carers and the use of specialist equipment such as hoists. The size of the vehicle may be dictated by the individuals’ other mobility needs, a larger adapted vehicle being necessary to accommodate a powered wheel chair for example.
Despite the difficulties, there does seem to be reason to hope that in the longer term those with significant disabilities may have an easier route to the freedom of movement which the able bodied take for granted and that driverless cars may comprise part of the range of tools which facilitate such freedom.
If you have sustained an injury which impacts on your mobility and wish to discuss a potential claim, please contact our Personal Injury and Clinical negligence team on 0800 316 8892 or e-mail: email@example.com
Clarke Willmott can also provide advice relating to contractual and commercial issues facing the motor and insurance industries arising from the introduction of driverless cars.