Long ago I accepted the unavoidability of aging. I’m not sure which birthday officially makes you a senior citizen, but I know I’m getting darn close.

And that has me looking at the North American International Auto Show from a different perspective: That of an old guy racing a deadline.

Self-driving cars will be the story of this year’s event, which begins today in Cobo Center for the media. The Detroit show has added a huge AutoMobili-D display area to highlight the segment’s rapidly developing technology.

For a lot of baby boomers like myself, autonomous vehicles represent the promise of richer and more independent elder years than any previous generation has known.

Forty-five million Americans are already over 65, and by 2030, that number will be 17 million higher, according to the AARP.

That’s a lot of geezers who will be on the road, or wishing they could be.

Independence is tied to mobility. That’s true of the body, of course. You lose the ability to walk, and you become far more reliant on others.

But it’s also true of the ability to drive.

I got a call several years ago from the sheriff of the county where my aunt lived that went like this:

“You’ve got to take Miss Imagene’s keys away.” “Why?” I asked. “Because we just followed her home from town and she knocked down ’bout every road sign between here and the ridge.”

Still, it wasn’t until she drove her car into a pond on a rainy Sunday morning that I got the nerve to finally pull her kicking and screaming from behind the wheel.

From there it was a straight shot to the nursing home. Isolation and a sense of defeat worked hard on a woman who, though unfit to drive, was otherwise OK physically and mentally.

Already, I have older cousins who have parked their cars, either for good or at least during the after-dark hours. It comes to most everyone fortunate to live into old age, and it comes with a great feeling of loss.

Self-driving cars have the potential to change that inevitability.

If you can get yourself to the store, to the doctor’s office, to family and friends without taking the risk of driving, you can stay in your own home longer, with an enhanced quality of life.

Cars have always represented freedom for boomers. When we were young, they gave us a place to make out, which today’s kids may find quaint, but was essential in an era when parents didn’t think it was cool for you to entertain friends in your bedroom.

As we grew up, cars took us to all the magical places of our music and movies.

It seems fitting that the latest version of automobiles will allow us to keep our independence and dignity longer than we might have expected.

Still, I don’t want to be chauffeured about by a driverless car any sooner than necessary. I like to drive myself, and am an insufferable passenger. The thought of riding with a virtual driver who could give a hoot about my nagging is unappealing.

But not as much as sharing a room in a nursing home with another old crank just because I can’t back the car out of the drive.

Nolan Finley’s book “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble Nook.


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