On Tuesday, March 12th, MCD Executive Director Joan Willshire testified in front of the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee regarding SF 2173. This bill establishes provisions for autonomous vehicle testing in Minnesota.
Executive Director Willshire’s testimony follows:
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and Committee members.
My name is Joan Willshire and I’m the Executive Director of the Minnesota Council on Disability. The Minnesota Council on Disability is a state agency that exist to advise the governor, state legislature, state agencies and the public regarding disability issues.
Self-driving cars could revolutionize how people with disabilities get around their communities and even travel far from home. There are people who can’t see well or have physical and mental difficulties that prevent them from driving safely or rely on others or local governments or nonprofit agencies to help them get around. Autonomous vehicles could be the answer.
Self-driving cars present fundamentally new ways to think about transportation and accessibility. They have the potential to change neighborhoods and individuals lives–including people who are disabled and are often both literally and figuratively left behind. With proper planning and research, autonomous vehicles can provide even more people with significant independence in their lives.
Self-driving cars could allow as many as 2 million people with disabilities to work! This was quoted in a recent article in Auto Trader magazine. Currently, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is at a low of 70%. When people with disabilities have been surveyed about their employment situation the number one reason as to why they can’t get employed or stay employed is transportation.
Self-driving cars could be the major disruptor in transportation like we’ve never seen for many populations, but even more so for people with disabilities. This would give the disability community another viable option. No longer would we have to have a four-day wait for para transit to pick us up, or dial in for a ride that may or may not show up, but certainly not be on time, anyway. Currently, the on-demand transportation network companies are not accessible, either–such as your Uber and Lyft companies and this is just another opportunity for self-driving cars to get into as well. And yes, the state of Minnesota could buy a fleet of autonomous vehicles to meet the ever-growing transit needs, from para transit to non-emergency medical transportation.
The disability community welcomes this opportunity for an autonomous vehicle pilot in Minnesota. As we go down this road in this new venture we must continually include people with disabilities, the aging community, and veterans with disabilities in these pilot programs to ensure full accessibility for everyone.
I have great passion for AV and am available to help in anyway to ensure that the autonomous vehicles are able to safely get on the roads in Minnesota.
Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I am open for questions.