Propelled by the fastest-aging nation in the world, there may soon come a day when senior motorists will find themselves behind the wheel (or lack thereof) of a fully autonomous car.
According to Bloomberg, Japan’s aging population is spurring innovations in autonomous car technology based on a sobering statistic: 51 percent of traffic fatalities in the graying country come from drivers aged 65 and over, with no signs of slowing at the present as more motorists enter their golden and twilight years each passing day; by 2060, 40 percent of Japan’s population will be 65 and over.
Thus, a number of automakers — including Toyota, Nissan and General Motors — are doing all they can to introduce technologies that could, by 2020 at the earliest, lead to the first autonomous cars ready for sale.
What could this bring to senior motorists in Japan, the United States, and other graying nations down the road? Freedom, if Google’s Anthony Levandowski, one of the project leaders for the company’s own autonomous car project, has anything to say about it:
This technology restores the freedom that people can’t see. This system will drive old people to see their grandkids and see doctors.
While Levandowski and other autonomous evangelists spread their gospel throughout the industry, detractors such as BMW’s Klaus Kompass caution against having too much optimism about this brave new world, which he expects won’t appear before 2025:
We are always talking about, ’80 percent or 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error.’ Nobody is talking, surprisingly, about all the accidents that human drivers have avoided.
Back in Japan, however, at least one researcher hopes for the best, at least when it comes to his country’s graying road warriors:
“Zero fatalities is definitely a feasible target,” according to Kazunoba Nagaoka of the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis. “I would expect we can realize that by 2035.”