Opinion: Driverless cars will open up holidays for older people

Opinion: Driverless cars will open up holidays for older people

New vehicles will be liberating for those who have stopped driving, says Debbie Marshall, MD of Silver Travel Advisor

After many years of trials, the advent of driverless cars is getting much closer.

Driverless cars will revolutionise the way we all move about.

Psychologically, it’s going to take a bit of getting used to. As someone who has an illogical concern about the lack of a driver on the Docklands Light Railway, I find it hard to imagine relaxing in the back seat of a car with only a computer at the wheel.

And, of course, macho drivers will not be keen to hand over the controls and lose the opportunity to release all that testosterone.

Travel freedom

For the “silver” sector, however, driverless cars will bring freedom and empowerment.

The gain in mobility will mean more years of travelling independently, bringing an exciting opportunity for the travel industry to offer new and different holiday experiences.

The desire of older people to explore the world is not always matched with their mobility and good health.

The ageing process can frequently bring with it unwelcome physical deterioration, all of which can lead to a reduction in ability and confidence when at the wheel. Not to mention the risks to safety and others on the road.

My ageing aunt had to be escorted back to her home twice by the local police after getting lost, the second time after driving her car into a ditch.

When older people stop driving, they not only lose their independence for day-to-day travel but also find their choice of holidays can no longer include self-drive in the UK or overseas as well as any form of car hire.

And when loss of mobility prevents stepping onto a coach or train, the options narrow further.

Moreover, when older people lose mobility and independence, loneliness and isolation can be a consequence.

Holiday choice

The advent of driverless cars cannot come soon enough for silver travellers, bringing with it the independence and empowerment that they deserve.

Self-drive holidays to far-flung corners of the UK and Europe will be back on the agenda, as well as car hire for overseas holidays and day trips.

And for the journey from home to the airport, simply take the driverless car to the drop-off zone and send it home again.

For those who are less mobile, adapted cars will provide a whole new level of accessibility and freedom. And voice activation will enable the blind and partially sighted to be equally liberated and mobile.

With the exponential growth in this sector – 20% of the population will be over 65 by 2020 – keeping people active and mobile will be crucial and offer longer-term health benefits.

Importantly, the next generation of older people will be the ones for whom digital technology is less of a mystery.

As Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, says: “For the first time in history, older people are going to be the lifestyle leaders of a new technology. Younger people may have had smartphones first, but it’s the 50‑plus consumers who will be first with smart cars.”


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