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Autonomous taxi firms can’t afford to forget about disabled passengers

Autonomous vehicles (AVs), like self-driving taxis, continue to garner media attention as industry and political stakeholders claim that they will improve safety and access to transportation for everyone. But for people who have different mobility needs and rely on human drivers for work beyond the task of driving, the prospect of driverless taxis may not sound like progress. Unless accommodations are built into autonomous vehicle designs, companies risk undermining transportation access for the very communities this technology is promising to include.

The promise

A January 2020 joint report issued by the National Science and Technology Council and U.S. Department of Transportation paints a bright picture of an autonomous-enabled future. They predict autonomous vehicles will provide “improved quality of life, access, and mobility for all citizens.” Replacing the driver with an autonomous system will create safer transportation by removing the “possibility of human error.”

In addition, synchronizing vehicle movement with distance and traffic patterns would not only result in more efficient servicebut safer roadway navigation. These advances should mean fewer cars, less traffic, more economical fuel use, and increased vehicle availability.

[Read: Apple supercharges its maps with EV and bicycle routing options in select cities]

More than driving

If done right, autonomous vehicles could improve access to transportation for everyone. But by not accounting for the many other kinds of labor a driver performs, current AVs may present problems for people with different needs.