Volkswagen Group of America supports DOT's focus on accessible transportation, including its announcement to create an online resource or library to house industry-produced accessible design standards and best practices and funding preliminary research work to begin the process of developing voluntary standards for vehicle accessibility developed by a private Standards Development Organization.
Despite fully self-driving vehicles being still some years away, significant efforts are required now to ensure vehicle designs and functionality deliver on the potential to provide increased mobility to those that are currently underserved. For a truly accessible automated vehicle experience, automated vehicles will need an accessible system level HMI, hardware compatibility with various assistive devices, and accessible physical features such as doors, controls, and ramps. Given the long vehicle design lead-time and the need to design hardware solutions at the beginning of a design cycle, the auto industry in collaboration with disability organizations identified the accessibility topic of wheelchair-accessible vehicles and automated wheelchair-securement as an urgent priority to tackle now. The wheelchair and occupant securement within autonomous and electric wheelchair-accessible vehicles should be possible without assistance from another person. A key barrier to this concept is the large variation in wheelchair types and lack of standards that enable a universal self-securement solution. Work must begin in earnest to establish a new cross-industry standard for the physical docking interface between the wheelchair & vehicle as well as a standard for the crash-worthiness of wheelchairs.
DOT can be an important catalyst for this work. It can bring together the necessary stakeholders, including wheelchair manufacturers, to begin shaping these new emerging cross-industry standards through SAE or other standards bodies that will need to be in place in order for AVs to be accessible. The accessibility strategic plan should include specific DOT actions and goals to facilitate the development of standardization for automated wheelchair and occupant securement as well as for wheelchair crash worthiness.