National Council on Disability Commends Senate Commerce Committee for Hearings on Self-Driving Cars

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March 16, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC -- The National Council on Disability (NCD)—an independent federal agency that advises the President, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policy—applauds the Senate Commerce Committee for a series of hearings on self-driving vehicles, which begin Tuesday, March 15 and featured a slate of industry witnesses to explore “advancements in autonomous vehicle technology and its anticipated benefits for Americans,” according to the Committee.

“Self-driving cars are some of the most exciting innovations in transportation since the Model T first rolled off the assembly line in 1913,” said NCD Chairperson Clyde Terry. “Autonomous vehicles hold tremendous potential for people with disabilities and seniors who currently lack equal access to transportation. When the needs of those with a variety of disabilities, including blindness, are considered during the development of transportation innovations, everybody benefits. We’re grateful that industry is paving potential new roads of access with the creation of autonomous vehicles, and agree with Chris Urmson, Google’s Director of Self-Driving Cars, who testified at yesterday’s hearing about a blind stakeholder who told Google, ‘What this is really about is who gets to access travel and commerce and who doesn’t. Frankly, I’m tired of people with disabilities not being able to access cars.’”

“NCD is proud to have been representing the disability community from the beginning of federal policy conversations on this new technology, since the publication of our autonomous vehicles report in 2015,” continued Terry. “We look forward to continuing to inform future discussions among industry leaders, policymakers, and disability advocates to optimize access to, and use of, this emerging technology going forward.”

Why Self-Driving Cars Are Important to 57 Million Americans with Disabilities:

  • Autonomous vehicles, or AVs, hold great potential to advance social inclusion by offering people with a variety of disabilities, including blindness, independent mobility to get to school, get jobs, and participate that other Americans take for granted each day. They offer the possibility of ending the isolation many people who are aging experience by keeping connections with others through common activities that are often lost when people lose the ability to drive.
  • AV technology holds the key for independent use of vehicles by people who cannot hold a driver’s license. However, without explicit inclusion of accessibility in the development of AV technologies, the potential for independence decreases. For example, equal access to the internet for people who are blind, have low-vision or other disabilities was not considered by web developers, and many people with disabilities experienced unnecessary obstacles to information (e.g., text that is inaccessible to screen reader software, lack of captions on audio content, keyboard-only navigation). Untapped markets were neglected. This is a lesson for AV researchers and engineers—now is the time to commit to and ensure equal accessibility while at the same time amassing market share.
  • Once level 4 AVs (i.e., fully self-driving cars) are available, there is no reason for an occupant to be licensed at all. In order for people with a variety of disabilities to benefit from the technology, licensing or operating requirements should be consistent across all 50 states. National guidelines developed by the United States Department of Transportation should help states develop licensing requirements that do not impose undue or unnecessary limits on people with disabilities.

NCD’s report “Self-Driving Cars: Mapping Access to a Technology Revolution” can be read or downloaded from: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2015/self-driving-cars-mapping-access-technology-revolution

To read or quote NCD’s testimony to the March 15 Senate Commerce Committee, go to: http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/2016/SenateCommerceAVWrittenTestimony

About the National Council on Disability (NCD): First established as an advisory Council within the Department of Education in 1978, NCD became an independent federal agency in 1984. In 1986, NCD recommended enactment of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Since enactment of the ADA in 1990, NCD has continued to play a leading role in crafting disability policy, and advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policies, programs, and practices.