What does the future look like for disabled vehicles?

One of the biggest daily challenges faced by those living with a disability is simply getting from A to B.

Making the necessary modifications for disabled people to cars can prove a costly exercise, although financial assistance is available and companies such as Allied Mobility provide Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV) to many.

For now, though, many still have to turn to public transport. Experiences there are not always so positive, however, with a recent survey finding that a huge 40 per cent of disabled Brits experienced difficulties when travelling on the rail network.

Negative encounters can knock confidence and prevent people from living life to the fullest, but the advances in technology – particularly in road vehicles – could provide solutions.

A driverless future

Two topics have dominated the automotive industry for some time now, cars that run on renewable energy and are able to drive themselves.

The push for electric vehicles is clear, with many governments now committing to ban the sale of diesel and petrol-powered cars. The UK government recently brought forward its commitment to ending the sale of such vehicles from 2040 to 2035.

Self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles are expected to be the next great move in the industry, with widespread tests already being done across the world it could be very important for disabled people and their ability to get around.

Will it be affordable?

Just as the technology behind electric cars has pushed the prices up compared to their petrol counterparts, driverless vehicles are unlikely to come cheap.

Given how far we still are from their commercial release, it’s tough to guess exactly what kind of price point they will hit the market with, however with WAV costs still much higher than conventional vehicles, those with disabilities seeking transportation may see costs remain in line.

Will it be safe?

This is the biggest question surrounding autonomous vehicles. With some cars being driven by people, and others taking decisions for themselves, it is unclear how this will affect traffic on a daily basis.

Testing of driverless cars has resulted in fatalities, with Uber having recently regained a permit to road test its driverless cars in California two years on from a crash that cost 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg her life.

Using cameras, GPS mapping and other existing technologies in modern road cars, avoiding collisions is crucial to driverless cars. This will become especially paramount if in use by a disabled person, who may not have the physical capability to take control in certain circumstances.

What is already out there?

For now, the cars being used for testing are adapted versions of existing road cars, often using fuel-cell technology.

Tesla’s billionaire owner Elon Musk has spoken of driverless cars hitting the market imminently, although it remains impossible to purchase an autonomous car to use on public roads.

It certainly appears as through the automotive industry is seeking a driverless future, which could have life-changing impacts for many.