SAE Standards Development

Automated Driving System Dedicated Vehicles promise mobility benefits for persons with disabilities

In September 2015, Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, became passenger for the world’s first fully driverless ride on public roads, with no police escort, no closed course, and no test driver, as part of the Google self-driving car project. (Source: Waymo) More than 1 billion people, about 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability. In the United States, nearly one in five, or 56.7 million people, have a disability. Of the 15 million Americans who report having difficulties accessing transportation services, 40% represents the disabled community. The lack of a personal vehicle is the most frequently cited reason for being homebound for persons with disabilities. Today’s ever-evolving and technology-infused mobility landscape presents new mobility opportunities for this community.

Automated Driving System Dedicated Vehicles (ADS-DVs)—vehicles designed to be operated exclusively by level 4 and level 5 Automated Driving Systems (ADS) —have the potential to yield positive, life-altering mobility benefits for persons with disabilities, including those who are unable to obtain a driver’s license. OEMs and technology companies are in a race to be the first to develop, refine, and deploy ADS-DVs for traditional vehicle drivers and transportation service providers. Though this race may foster rapid technology development, it may result in significant accessibility gaps as a byproduct that ultimately excludes the participation of the disability community.

Systemic Barriers to Personal Mobility
Over half a million disabled Americans never leave home due to the lack of transportation. Almost three decades after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, persons with disabilities continue to face systemic barriers to transportation. The lack of transportation accessibility contributes to unemployment rate being twice as high for persons with disabilities compared to that of those with no disability. Furthermore, people with disabilities report transportation and affordability as main barriers to receiving needed health care.

For those who are unable to obtain a driver’s license, transportation options are often limited to walking, public transport, and for-hire services such as taxis. The current model for obtaining personal, accessible vehicles involves aftermarket vehicle modification, which is prohibitively expensive ($20,000 to $80,000 per vehicle in addition to the purchase price of a stock vehicle). In 1997, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated the number of vehicles modified for those with disabilities to be 383,000. This number is expected to be much larger today given improvements in assistive technologies and a larger population with disabilities. These examples demonstrate how and why a large subset of the disability community is challenged with transportation options that remain either inaccessible, unreliable, or ill-suited toward some or all transportation needs.

Accessible ADS-DVs
Accessible ADS-DVs would mean that persons with disabilities are able to independently: (i) get in and out of the vehicle; (ii) safely secure themselves and their mobility aid devices; and (iii) operate the vehicle. In the current technology environment, ensuring that all three of these aspects of accessibility are met does not require a significant technological leap once ADS technology is fully developed; however, it may involve considerable resources for architectural and configuration changes along with new compliance and certification.

With on-road motor vehicle driving automation systems, the user base of vehicles can expand to include those who currently cannot obtain driver’s licenses or easily operate conventional vehicles. The level of the disability community’s participation in the ADS-DV use will depend on how early and to what extent that OEMs and technology companies will design ADS-DVs with the criteria and user requirements of this community in mind. It is through the design of the vehicles that barriers are created or removed.

In his testimony to the Hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Clyde Terry, Chair of the National Council on Disability, stated, “Accessibility must be infused in the research and development of [automated vehicles]. Without explicit inclusion of accessibility in the development of [automated vehicle] technologies, the potential for opportunity wanes.” During the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s hearing titled “Paving the Way for Self-Driving Vehicles,” Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire reiterated the importance of “getting upfront input from people who experience disabilities before the product is finalized,” and to streamline the accessible ADS design process by including the disability community sooner rather than later.

The U.S Department of Transportation’s Federal Automated Vehicles Policy states that “manufacturers and other entities should design their HMI to accommodate people with disabilities (e.g., through visual, auditory, and haptic displays),” and “entities are encouraged to seek technical and engineering advice from members of the disabled community and otherwise engage with that community to develop designs informed by its needs and experiences.”

As Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi stated, with accessible ADS, “Simple things that most of us take for granted is getting to and from work or across town to visit family will no longer present insurmountable obstacles for those who cannot currently drive.”

Role of Standards
Standards development is an essential element of the development of ADS and related enabling technologies. Standards are vital for establishing interoperability of complex, highly integrated vehicle systems, including the human-machine interface. New ADS-DV accommodations must be engineered and validated to facilitate use of ADS-DVs by new/nontraditional user communities, including a subpopulation of the disability community. These new solutions must be accompanied by consensus, open standards to ensure the safety, reliability, and performance requirements of ADS-DVs for the new user community. Specifically, standards may focus on entry/exit, pre-, during, and post-incident management, and failure mode protection.

Activities at SAE International
As a leader in developing open, consensus standards in mobility, SAE continues its mission to identify and fill gaps in research and standards. SAE is leading the development of standards on automated driving systems. SAE’s levels of automation are adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In late 2016, SAE established the Identifying ADS-DV User Issues for Persons with Disabilities Task Force. This task force is dedicated to gathering and developing information on user issues specific to disability population of ADS-DV users. The main activities of the task force are literature review and stakeholder interviews, which will inform the Information Report that summarizes ADS-DV user issues for this community. This represents one of SAE’s initial steps to conduct research and develop Technical Reports to facilitate full utilization of ADS-DVs by the disability community.

In addition, SAE houses the Adaptive Devices Standards Committee, which is responsible for developing and maintaining Technical Reports related to defining minimum acceptable design requirements and performance criteria for adaptive equipment that is used by people with disabilities for their personal transportation. Several standards have been published under this committee, including the following:

SAE will continue to advance its standards and other activities to facilitate safe design of ADS-DVs for use by a broad user community.

Next Steps
Designing an inclusive, accessible ADS-DV requires a series of considerations. In the case of paratransit services, drivers’ duties extend well beyond the driving task to include assisting passengers when entering and exiting the vehicle, ensuring that passengers’ seatbelts are fastened and mobility devices are secured, as well as providing door-to-door service. If there was no driver, then new accommodations need to be in place to fill the void of the driver’s non-driving duties. Such accommodation could include independent wheelchair securement.

The benefits of ADS-DVs apply to those beyond individuals who are unable to obtain driver’s licenses. For example, ADS-DVs may allow enormous flexibility for interior seating configuration and passenger orientation as the need for steering wheels and pedals is eliminated. In this thought, the need for vehicle modifications to facilitate driving task, such as hand controls, may become obsolete.

As the leading standards development organization in ground vehicles, SAE recognizes the significant contribution it can provide in supporting the development and use of accessible ADS-DVs. SAE invites experts from all disciplines (e.g. human factors, disability advocacy, assistive technologies) to drive standards development to establish the foundation needed to facilitate the development of accessible ADS-DVs.

To learn more or get involved in SAE’s activities in accessible ground vehicles, please contact Annie Chang, Project Manager, Technical Programs, Global Ground Vehicle Standards, at or 248-404-0802 or S. William Gouse, Director, Federal Program Development, Global Ground Vehicle Standards at or 202-281-5844.