Driverless technologies must cater to those with accessibility issues, says UK government

Forthcoming transport technologies such as driverless cars should be designed to support people with disabilities according to the UK's Department for Transport (DfT).

Jesse Norman, future of mobility minister, said that self-driving vehicles and the increased use of mobile apps have the potential to “revolutionise” everyday journeys for people with movement issues and that this should be a key consideration for companies developing the technology.

A report released in March 2019 set out the UK government’s position towards the UK’s changing transport infrastructure and concluded that independent travel was a priority.

For example, as ride-sharing services become increasingly prominent, they will need to cater to users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters, as well as those who might not feel comfortable sharing with strangers due to mental health or developmental conditions.

Projects which do not have a provision for these users and other people who face difficulties using existing modes of transport risk being denied DfT funding. The government wants to create a transport system offering equal access for disabled people by 2030.

“Self-driving technologies could greatly improve the mobility of vulnerable user groups, helping to address problems of isolation and loneliness across the country,” Norman said.

“The needs of older people, and those with visible or hidden disabilities, must be at the heart of all new modes of transport.”

In November 2018 the DfT announced that toilets suitable for people with severe physical disabilities are to be installed at the majority of motorway service areas in England.

Fully accessible toilets will be built in the early 2020s using £2m of government funding, in partnership with charity Muscular Dystrophy UK.

James Taylor, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at disability equality charity Scope, said: “For too long, disabled people have faced barriers to being able to travel and live independently.

“At Scope we know that technology has the potential to transform the world for disabled people and it’s absolutely right that all future transport modes and technologies need to be accessible to everyone. However, disabled people must be involved in the design and testing of these technologies if they are to succeed.

“A genuinely inclusive transport network is one that makes it much easier for disabled people to get to work, see family and be part of their community both now and in the future.”

E&T recently looked at how car manufacturers are adapting to the oncoming future of “Mobility-as-a-Service” which is expected to disrupt their current business model of manufacturing vehicles and selling them directly to consumers.  

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