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Imagine: Safety and Independence in Self-Driving Vehicles

By Scott Marshall

Thanksgiving weekend my family took my dad’s car away from him. What we gained in peace of mind and safety, Dad lost in independence. According to the state of Minnesota, Dad is no longer able to safely operate a motor vehicle. His community is safer today than it was last week. With baby boomers aging, more and more families will need to choose, like we did, between independence and safety. Except in the not-too-distant future, families will have another option: self-driving vehicles.


Maybe you can imagine yourself not being able to independently run an errand or meet friends out for a birthday dinner. Maybe you’ve experienced the limitations imposed when transportation is a barrier to doing things and seeing people that bring you joy. Self-driving vehicles hold enormous possibility for aging people like my dad, for people with disabilities, and for others. They hold the promise of safety, independence, and peace of mind.

Now imagine that there isn’t a stark trade-off between safety and independence. Imagine it’s not either-or: either you're safe, or you're independent. Imagine there is a way to have both.

Some of the best engineers in the world are working to make this a reality in our communities. Engineers have already solved many of the safety concerns associated with self-driving vehicles. While there’s more to do, these cars are currently being tested on the road. The companies working to bring these vehicles to us are concerned chiefly with safety. They are committed to safety and are actively testing, re-working, re-testing, and validating everything they do to ensure that when---not if, when---these vehicles arrive in our communities, they not only contribute to people's independence, they do so in a way that ensures everyone's safety.

I can imagine my dad in a self-driving vehicle, commuting to his favorite lake for the daily walk he’s done for the last 10 years. I can imagine my friend with a disability who relies on Metro Mobility for transportation, hopping in a self-driving vehicle to meet friends for a celebration. And I can imagine my daughters, welcoming me to their house for Thanksgiving and celebrating my independence intact for a while longer.
The technology making this possible is new and can be scary---like many of the technologies that we have made part of our everyday lives. A whole lot of very smart people are rapidly evolving this possibility and it won’t be long before it’s ready and safe for mass production. Imagine what it could mean for you, your family, and our community.

A group is exploring the possibility of self-driving vehicles in Minnesota. Stay up-to-date on the group’s efforts via Twitter @selfdrivingmn1 or contact them at

Here are a few resources that explain self-driving vehicles and show the vehicles in action:

Scott Marshall is an associate director in the Disability Resource Center at the University of Minnesota and believes we all have a responsibility to minimize the disabling effects of our environment.



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