Getting the pink slip from Miss Daisy

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

We're hearing a lot these days about the ways journalism is fundamentally shifting. Rightfully so. But there was an even more notable transformation taking place when I was a novice reporter: typewriters were being phased out.

It seems almost comical now that this shift would have caused such a ruckus. But facing the prospect of adapting to an easier-to-use tool, many grizzled veterans opted to retire instead.

But you know how it goes: people get set in their ways as they age, right? Just look around. It's not like 60-, 70- and 80-somethings are breaking the Internet — or clogging up Apple stores.

New technology and its early adoption belong to tweens, teens and young adults, right?

But there are early signs that a breakthrough mobility device could put this conventional wisdom on its head. I'm referring, of course, to self-driving cars. Although many 20-somethings appear to view these vehicles as a threat to their independence and freedom, many older people see them as just the opposite.

And who could blame them? After all, who wants to lose the ability to drive to the doctor, or to see friends, or to simply run errands? Yet the health-related problems of aging, such as compromised vision, arthritis and memory loss, can compromise a person's driving ability. And that's where self-driving cars can literally come to the rescue.

Given the demographics of our nation — 43 million people now age 65 or older and the ranks swelling by 10,000 a day — you can bet car makers and others are sizing up this potential business opportunity.

Right now, Google is leading the way. Google's self-driving cars have already logged more than 1.4 million miles and have caused only one (non-fatal) accident so far. That compares quite favorably with human-driven vehicles. The latter account for more than five million crashes and 30,000 fatalities each year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Ford Motor Co. is also designing these cars. Same for Toyota. It's a safe bet more carmakers will soon be doing the same.

These autos have the potential to give your residents more independence than might otherwise be possible. They could also force your community to rethink how it aids residents who need to get off the premises. In addition to vans or buses, you may need to consider whether a fleet of smart cars is also justified.

These smart cars might also delay your admissions, as people with the independence to get around on their own are far less likely to need what you are selling.

So who says old dogs can't learn new tricks? With the right incentives, almost anything is possible. Sorry Morgan Freeman, Miss Daisy won't be needing you behind the wheel anymore.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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