Dreaming of Driverless Cars

I never got my driver’s license. I learned a little of driving and went out a couple times, but due to my rheumatoid arthritis I felt I didn’t have the strength to drive safely. Sometimes I have thought about hand controls as an adaptation, but not seriously enough to try them out.

While I grew up in the country where cars are required, I’ve been living in a city with robust public transportation options for a long time. I use my wheelchair on the bus, train, and sidewalks to get where I need to go (usually without too much trouble). When we need to travel by car, I depend on my husband to drive and help by serving as navigator.

The excitement of a driverless car

It’s been exciting to learn about the development of driverless cars during the last few years! While the technology is still not ready for primetime, I periodically read about how it’s coming along and may be ready for use within a few years.

My husband says: “No way! I always want to be in control of the car.” (Actually, he says: “Most Americans won’t be willing to give up control of their cars, even in cases where it would be for the greater good.”) But I say: “Bring it on!” I love the idea of having a car that could take me places—when and where I want to go in an instant. Sure, you may say that a taxi can do that. But most taxis are not wheelchair accessible and I’ve never been able to get one without pre-ordering or waiting a very long time. Same for the services like Uber and Lyft—no love for the wheelchairs.

A sense of freedom while driving

If I had a driverless car, it would bring a new sense of freedom. Just the idea feels foreign (but exciting!) in my brain. I’m so used to planning ahead all my travels in detail, including back up plans and workarounds in case a bus or train is late. To be able to jump in a car and just go sounds amazing!

I know it may not be that easy, at least in the beginning. Probably the first generation of driverless cars will require licensed drivers to sit at the wheel. But I am convinced that it won’t be long until other options are available.

I’m dreaming of “Minority Report”-like cars where driving is optional. It would have a hatch that opens up with a ramp so that I can roll in with my wheelchair. There would be automated clamps on my wheels for safety. And then go, go, go! I could nap during long trips or read my book. I could go places locally that are too far or inconvenient for public transit. Maybe even better would be longer road trips where we could just relax instead of paying attention to traffic on the road.

Even if I learned to drive with hand controls, I doubt that I would have the stamina to drive very far. I think it would take too much energy for me. In a lot of ways my current commuting time also doubles as rest time. If I had to be physically and mentally active for driving, I’d have to compensate by saving energy in other ways.

I know I may not be the target market for driverless cars, but I am eager to eventually take advantage of this new emerging technology. While most people with RA (and many people with all kinds of physical disabilities) can drive with no trouble, it just has never been that achievable for me. I would relish the chance to explore my world with new verve by having a new and easier way to get around.

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