The move to bring self-driving cars to market accelerated on Sept. 6, 2017, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the SELF DRIVE Act. This is good news, as transportation may help older adults maintain their independence for longer.
The bill is said to be the first significant federal legislation to spur autonomous cars to market and passed with bipartisan support. For the time being, the bill would allow automakers to innovate without having to meet current auto safety standards.
Since innovation on self-driving cars began, states have been creating their own regulations. This bill puts the brakes on state laws, so that manufacturers can test the cars thoroughly. If the bill becomes law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will regulate the design, construction, and performance of self-driving cars. NHTSA will be able to grant up to 25,000 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) exemptions in the first year alone; the current number allowed is 2,500.
The bill gives NHTSA access to safety data to develop safety standards, and it requires NHTSA to develop safety assessment certifications for automakers. It enhances protections for cybersecurity, privacy, and consumer education. And it could support older adults.

Benefits for Older Adults

"'Age in place': How self-driving cars will transform retirement" from Yahoo Finance describes the bill's passage as "a major win for the elderly."
Self-driving cars could change the landscape of housing for older adults, enabling older adults to stay independent and in their own homes for longer. Companies that repair homes and remodel them to include grab bars and other accessible design features could see a boost in business. According to Yahoo Finance, companies such as Home Depot and Lowe's are already benefitting from a shift toward renovating homes instead of moving. Homeowners now stay in their houses nearly eight years, more than twice the rate as in 2008, Attom Data Solutions found.
“Self-driving cars hold the promise of making America’s roads safer, creating new economic opportunities, and helping seniors and those with disabilities live more independently,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH). “The SELF DRIVE Act strikes the critical balance of enhancing consumer safety while promoting the continued development of this cutting-edge technology.”
According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the SELF DRIVE Act supports greater mobility for all Americans by doing the following:

  • Establishing a Federal Advisory Council to ensure manufacturers and regulators understand the needs of populations traditionally underserved by public transportation as well as senior citizens and individuals with disabilities;
  • Promoting educational outreach with respect to self-driving technology and its use by senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and the implementation of this technology within communities traditionally underserved by public transportation; and
  • Ensuring manufacturers and regulators understand current impediments that may prevent individuals with disabilities from using self-driving cars.

The SELF DRIVE acronym stands for Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution. While automakers, business groups, and advocates for the disabled applaud the measure, safety advocates and labor groups have raised concerns, says the New York Times. The Senate is reportedly working on a similar bill.

If you plan on attending the upcoming LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo, please be sure to check out the Technology Deep Dive on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, from 8 a.m. to noon. One of the two breakouts in the last hour of the Deep Dive will discuss self-driving cars, their applications to older adults, and implications on senior living communities.