By committing to more inclusive design practices in the move towards autonomous vehicles, the motor industry has the opportunity to pioneer change for personal transport.
Traditionally, the automotive design process has not considered the more diverse needs of a range of people and abilities, leaving the more than 20% of people in the UK with disabilities unable to drive and therefore reliant on public transport and its concomitant difficulties. It is clear that accessible transport is crucial for increasing social interaction, opportunity, and independence.
Though self-driving cars will eventually remove the need for people to physically drive the vehicles themselves, that in itself does not necessarily make them more inclusive. For example, other barriers may include actual exit and entry difficulty so design that included grab handles and side steps would be widely beneficial.
Folding or moving car seats or opening and closing boot lids can require quite a level of force, and seatbelts can be difficult to manipulate in many cars today. If they were designed to be used more easily by all, then inevitably they would be accessible to many more. And to include wheelchair users, an easy to use restraint system, lowered floor, ramp, and enough actual space once inside the vehicle could be revolutionary.
Similarly, a combination of visual display and voice input interfaces would benefit all passengers and cater for their preferred or most suitable method of interaction. Considering people’s diverse needs early in the design process makes it far easier to design accessible cars and make transport inclusive, and with the advent of autonomous vehicles in the near future, now is the ideal time.
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