A veteran driven by a love of learning

“Being able to have access to reliable, safe, dignified transportation is an absolute game-changer for our senior population.”

Santos was born in 1931 in a small community just outside of Phoenix. From a young age, he was always driven to learn, to study, and to understand the world and the way it worked, and he wouldn’t let anything stand in his way.

“I didn’t have any money to go to college, so I joined the Air Force with the idea of seeing if I could find educational opportunities in the service,” Santos says.

He served his country in the daytime. At night, he studied.

Santos would go on to earn his PhD, publish novels and write nonfiction, and share his love of learning with others over a 45-year career in education. He taught U.S. history, Mexican history, and writing. At home, his walls are filled with accolades and books.

To and from the destinations of life, Santos always drove, that is until November 2018.

“I was always a driver except that, in November, I had to give up driving.”

FSL President and CEO, Tom Egan, Santos, and Mollie, an employee of FSL.

Staying connected without driving

“I was always a driver except that in November I had to give up driving,” Santos explains. “And so I parked my car.” Santos gave his son the keys to the Buick Sedan he bought in 2007. He was in his late eighties.

Now, Santos’s wife drives him to doctor’s appointments in her car. He stays active and engaged through a dynamic range of activities like group discussions, classes, and workouts at the Foundation for Senior Living (FSL) near his home in Phoenix, Arizona.

But while Santos has access to transportation, many other people in Phoenix who can no longer drive do not.

An urgent need for senior transportation

“Transportation is always a huge barrier for our aging population,” says Tom Egan, President and CEO of FSL, a Phoenix-based nonprofit organization devoted to improving the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities by providing programming, transportation, and affordable housing.

He says transportation will be more and more important as the senior population skyrockets nationwide. The year 2025 will be the first time there are more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 18. Additionally, the number of people over the age of 100 is rapidly increasing.

However, Tom emphasizes that 87% of people want to stay in their own homes, yet many of them are losing the ability to drive while also living in car-dependent communities.

As the population grows, so will the need for more transportation for seniors.

“We have to come up with technology interventions and applications of the new technologies to help all those people,” Tom emphasizes.

Santos and Tom prepare to ride in a Waymo.

Self-driving cars: the potential to help people who can no longer drive

Tom says there are promising, innovative solutions. He believes FSL – and the entire population the organization serves – can benefit from fully self-driving technology and be on the leading edge of adopting it.

“I think self-driving has a tremendous impact, not just for the senior, but also the person who’s taking care of them,” Tom says. Fully self-driving cars have the potential to take people safely from place to place without anyone needing to drive.

Waymo's fully self-driving technology is constantly vigilant and can see up to three football fields away, 360 degrees day or night, and is designed to be a cautious, defensive driver. Self-driving cars can’t get distracted, drunk, or text while driving.

Seniors can be leaders in adopting new technology

Tom emphasizes that the senior population can be leaders in the adoption of new technologies, adding that many seniors are much more open to innovation than they sometimes receive credit for.

“I think it’s a little bit of a misnomer with an aging population that they’re not going to adopt the technology,” Tom says. “Yes, there will be some, but there’s a whole group of young boomers who are online, they’re tech savvy, and they’re more open to this.”

When Waymo and Tom invited Santos to take a ride in a Waymo self-driving vehicle in March 2019, he quickly agreed.

The night before the ride, Santos talked about self-driving technology with his wife, who is also in her mid-eighties and serves as his sometimes-driver (although she no longer drives at night, in the winter, or on the freeway).

“I discussed that with my wife about the self-driving cars,” Santos recalls. “I said ‘I imagine you will just punch in the address where you want to go, and then you punch the main button, and the car takes off and goes there’.”

Santos notes that self-driving cars are a continuation of technological innovations throughout history.

“Technology is actually with us in health, in hospitals, and doctors and teachers use it,” Santos emphasizes. “We have to convince people in their hearts and minds that technology can be safe and they can trust it.”

On their trip, Tom and Santos point out features of the technology and watch the screen that lets them follow their trip and see what the car is seeing through its system of radars and sensors.

“Once Waymo has this technology more integrated into our community... it could be transformational for our world,” Tom says.

Tom explains that it’s more than just driving people around: it’s about helping people live life to the fullest. “Being able to have access to reliable, safe, dignified transportation is an absolute game-changer for our senior population.”

“In the future – I can see – self-driving cars because they will be carrying people who only have to press a button to start it and the car will do the rest.”

Santos and Tom experience self-driving technology first-hand.

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