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Too Old to Drive? Think Again, Google to the Rescue.

06/04/2014 11:35 am ET | Updated Aug 04, 2014

Independence is first and foremost in the American spirit. But, our society is at a crossroads. Within the next two decades 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65. This causes great debate when it comes to aging and driving. Is there ever a point where someone is too old to drive? Before you answer, consider how giving up the car keys means giving away freedom.

Think back to the last time your car was in the repair shop or when you were too young to drive. Chances are you felt left out, isolated and perhaps guilty for asking friends, family and loved ones to change their schedules to help you get around. If you were one of the lucky ones, your car was fixed the same day, but, for senior's giving up car keys, the loss of freedom is permanent.

Consider this quote:

When I lost my license to drive a car that loss built on previous losses I had suffered, my spouse and dear friends. The grief felt like a little death, but I didn't think others would understand that. After all, a driver's license is not the same as losing someone you love, but the sense of loss was similar for me. I finally went to a support group that was open to any kind of loss, and I found a safe place to talk about it there. That helped a lot.

While senior drivers comprise 9 percent of the population, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show senior citizens account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities. Compromised vision, hearing and reflexes, as well as, medications and medical conditions attribute to the large percent of fatalities.

While the death rates involving drivers aged 75 to 84 is about the same as teen drivers, once drivers pass the age of 85, vehicular fatality rates jump to nearly four times that of teens. Many of the deaths are of the seniors themselves, as it is harder for their bodies to recover from car accidents.

With all the news reports about seniors backing vehicles into school children, smashing into storefronts or mistaking the accelerator pedal for the brake, it's no wonder there is a call to restrict or ban older drivers. In case you're unsure of your state's renewal and restriction laws, see here.

As it turns out, most states have age-based driving restrictions in place. So what, if anything, can we do to help seniors retain their sense of independence, mobility and dignity? Many advocates for senior drivers point to taxis, carpools, family and public transportation as alternative ways to get around. But, there may soon be another alternative -- a self-driving car.

If Google has their way, self-driving cars will soon be a reality across our nation. Take a look at this video of Steve Mahan behind the wheel of Google's driverless car. Mahan is legally blind with 95 percent of his vision gone.

And, if you think driverless cars will never be the norm here are some interesting facts to consider:

  • In 2011, Nevada was the first state to pass a law permitting the operation of self-driving cars.
  • The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued its first license for a driverless car in 2012.
  • In 2012, Florida and California became the second and third states to legalize the use of driverless cars for testing purposes.

Yet, the technology for driverless cars may be well ahead of our laws which all assume a human being is operating the vehicle. If a driverless car gets into an accident, who is to blame? The driver? The automaker? The developer of the technology?

Although there are many questions yet to be answered and driverless cars are not a commercial reality at the moment, analysts believe that by 2020 self-driving cars could be a $200+ billion opportunity. In fact, Google recently announced they will be building a hundred self-driving prototype vehicles. Outside of the incredible business opportunity, there are also many benefits when it comes to injuries and fatalities. Google estimates that self-driving cars could reduce the annual 30,000 road fatalities and 2 million injuries in the United States by up to 90 percent.

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