Dementia Drivers and AI Autonomous Cars

If the AI of the self-driving car is equipped to detect if surrounding drivers are operating in a safe and sound manner, it might spot a driver with dementia. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

Do you know someone that seems to be progressively forgetting things and their mind cannot remain focused on matters at-hand?

I’m not referring to the occasional moment whereby you might get distracted and misremember where you left your keys or where you put the TV remote.

We’ve likely all had those moments.

I knew a friend in college that every time he noticed that someone else had lost something or misplaced an item, he would jump right away to the classic “have you lost your mind” and seemed to overplay the rather hackneyed phrase (it became an ongoing irritant to those of us that interacted with him regularly). It is easy to leap to foregone conclusions and falsely suggest that someone has a systemic mental failing.

Typically, regrettably, as we get older, humans do though tend to genuinely have a kind of mental decay and their brains sadly begin to deteriorate.

There are an estimated 5 million people in the United States that are currently experiencing dementia.

Keep in mind that dementia is not a disease per se, though some assume it is, and instead it is considered an umbrella term that encompasses the loss of our thinking skills and also the degradation of various memory processing aspects. Dementia might start with no especially notable impairment and thus not be readily detectable and be easily shrugged off as inconsequential. Gradually, dementia usually emerges as an increasingly persistent onset, which might then ultimately lead to becoming quite severe and debilitating for the person.

This decreasing capability of cognitive functioning can be tough for the person with it and also be tremendously trying for those that are around or connected with the person. Many people that experience dementia are quick to deny they have anything wrong with them at all. It can be excruciatingly embarrassing and frightening to consider that you might have dementia. Some will do more than simply deny they have it and will attempt to showcase that they clearly do not suffer from it. In this effort to disprove the dementia, it often brings even more light to the dementia and perhaps illuminates it more so than others thought existed for the person.

Touching Story Of Dementia

I am reminded of the grandfather of a close friend of mine.

My friend was grappling with his aging grandfather’s behavior and actions that appeared to be symptomatic of dementia. The grandfather would get confused about the days and times that he was supposed to be taking medication for an ailment he had. He would forget the names of loved ones and could not identify their names when they came to visit him. I recall one time that I went to visit him, he brought me a cup of tea, and moments later he asked me if I wanted some tea. I pointed out that I already had tea. Nonetheless, he went back to the kitchen and brought me another cup of tea.

Those kinds of cognitive failings were perhaps reasonably acceptable in the sense that they weren’t preventing him from carrying on day-to-day and living a relatively normal existence. When the symptoms first began, my friend had “the talk” with him about dementia, which I’d say is more awkward than “the talk” of a father telling his son about the birds-and-the-bees. Having a son tell his own father that dementia is taking hold, well, it’s something no one welcomes and likely everyone dreads.

Unfortunately, the dementia oozed into all other aspects of the grandfather’s activities. Of which, the one that had perhaps had the most danger associated with it involved driving a car. The grandfather still had a legal driver’s license. There was nothing legally that prevented him from driving a car. He owned a car. He had the keys to the car. He could freely use the car whenever he wished to do so. Indeed, he tied much of his sense of being to the use of the car. It was his path to freedom. He could drive to the store, or drive to the park, or drive any darned place that he wanted to get to.

I was over at the house with my friend when one day his grandfather announced that he was going for a drive. We watched as he slowly, very slowly, agonizingly slowly, backed out of the garage. As he did so, he also bumped into a child’s bike that was stored in the garage. Furthermore, he was turning the steering wheel as he backed out, which made no sense since the driveway was straight behind the car. He managed to get the car almost turned kitty-corner and it looked like he might drive onto the grass of the front yard. He barely corrected in time and ended-up slightly going off the curb, rather than the usual driveway cut that was amply provided.

He then backed further into the street, doing so at a pace that caused other oncoming cars to come to a halt and wait. It wasn’t just a few brief seconds. It was somewhere around 30 seconds before he was able to fully get into the street, finally taking the car out of reverse, and put it into forward gear, and then eased down the road. I noticed that a neighbor’s dog was off its leash and running around, including veering into the street. I don’t believe the grandfather noticed the dog at all, and the car made no attempts to evade hitting the dog (luckily, the dog scampered on its own back to the grassy yards of the nearby homes).

If you are thinking why I am seemingly criticizing the grandfather about his driving, I’d like to emphasize that it is only because his driving skills had degraded and he was now becoming a danger to himself and others. I fully understand the importance he placed on personal mobility of having a car, along with the control, the emotional boost of driving, and so on. At some point we need to be equally thoughtful about the risk that his driving presents to his own well-being, and the well-being of others that come in contact with his car while he is driving.

Suppose he had hit that dog that was in the street? Suppose when backing out of the garage he had crushed the child’s bike? Suppose as he cut across the grass toward the curb that a small child was there and got struck? Suppose that as he entered into the street, an ongoing car zipped along but he backed into it and caused a car accident. In all of these instances, he could have been injured or killed. He could have injured or killed others. He could have caused damage to property. Etc.

In addition to his memory loses and his cognitive processing loses, he was quite slow to mentally process things.

As you know, when driving a car, you are often confronted with situations that require a split-second kind of mental processing. Is that car going to run the red light, and if so, should you try to do an emergency braking or instead attempt to push on the gas and accelerate out of the situation? In his dementia, it was relatively apparent that he would not be able to make such decisions in the split seconds of time required. This further made his driving a kind of “menace” to the road (I hate to say it that way, but, we need to be honest about these matters, for safety’s sake).

In all fairness, I also stipulate that sometimes there are situations wherein caring people inadvertently ascribe dementia to someone and their driving, when it has no such merit. My own now-adult-driver daughter still believes that I drive too slowly and conservatively.

Do I have dementia? I don’t think so, and nor does she assert it. But the point being that there are different kinds of driving styles and someone might have a different style that others don’t like, but if it is still a fully lucid form of driving and one that exercises due safety and care, let’s not just tarnish it with the dementia brush, so to speak.


For more about driving styles, see my article:

For aspects about the elderly and cars, see my article:

For the tit-for-tat involved in driving, see my article:

Why greed is an essential element of driving, see my article:

Driving And Dementia

In general, I would guess that we would all reasonably agree that if someone is hampered by dementia and it does so to the degree that it materially impairs their driving, the person ought to be reconsidering whether they should be driving or not.

I realize that in the case of the grandfather that he still actually had his driver’s license, which you might insist “proves” that he can still sufficiently drive a car. Not really. It was instead more due to a formality in the sense that his driver’s license had not come due for renewal involving a road-level driving test. Instead, he was just paying it for renewal year after year as a paperwork matter. This meant that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had no ready means to know that the grandfather was now an “impaired” driver.

I suppose you could say that if he was such a bad driver that he would have gotten a traffic ticket. And, if he had gotten a traffic ticket, the police would notify the DMV. Once the DMV was notified, certainly they would formally revoke his driver’s license. Well, he drove just a few miles a couple of times a week and had done so in a town-like area that allowed his poor driving to not stick-out, and thus he didn’t have any tickets as yet.

Would you prefer to wait until he actually hits someone or something, before we raise a red flag? I’d say that’s trying to close the barn door after the horse has already gotten out.

Imagine how someone else would feel if they knew that you knew that the grandfather was unfit to drive a car, and yet the grandfather rammed into them or their children? Why didn’t you take steps to prevent this from happening? The kindness of letting someone with dementia to continue driving a car when it is unsafe to do so must be weighted against the dangers and damages the dementia-laden person can cause to other unsuspecting people and places by being behind-the-wheel. We all need to be mindful that a multi-ton vehicle can render life-or-death results when driven recklessly or irresponsibly, regardless of how sincere or well-meaning the driver might be in their heart.

Dementia Drivers And AI Autonomous Cars

What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. One aspect involves the AI being able to discern or attempt to discern that other driver’s on-the-road might be driving while suffering from severe dementia, and the AI should then take necessary driving precautions accordingly.

Allow me to elaborate.

I’d like to first clarify and introduce the notion that there are varying levels of AI self-driving cars. The topmost level is considered Level 5. A Level 5 self-driving car is one that is being driven by the AI and there is no human driver involved. For the design of Level 5 self-driving cars, the automakers are even removing the gas pedal, the brake pedal, and steering wheel, since those are contraptions used by human drivers. The Level 5 self-driving car is not being driven by a human and nor is there an expectation that a human driver will be present in the self-driving car. It’s all on the shoulders of the AI to drive the car.

For self-driving cars less than a Level 5 and Level 4, there must be a human driver present in the car. The human driver is currently considered the responsible party for the acts of the car. The AI and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task. In spite of this co-sharing, the human is supposed to remain fully immersed into the driving task and be ready at all times to perform the driving task. I’ve repeatedly warned about the dangers of this co-sharing arrangement and predicted it will produce many untoward results.

For my overall framework about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For the levels of self-driving cars, see my article:

For why AI Level 5 self-driving cars are like a moonshot, see my article:

For the dangers of co-sharing the driving task, see my article:

Let’s focus herein on the true Level 5 self-driving car. Much of the comments apply to the less than Level 5 and Level 4 self-driving cars too, but the fully autonomous AI self-driving car will receive the most attention in this discussion.

Here’s the usual steps involved in the AI driving task:

  • Sensor data collection and interpretation
  • Sensor fusion
  • Virtual world model updating
  • AI action planning
  • Car controls command issuance

Another key aspect of AI self-driving cars is that they will be driving on our roadways in the midst of human driven cars too. There are some pundits of AI self-driving cars that continually refer to a Utopian world in which there are only AI self-driving cars on public roads. Currently, there are about 250+ million conventional cars in the United States alone, and those cars are not going to magically disappear or become true Level 5 AI self-driving cars overnight.

Indeed, the use of human driven cars will last for many years, likely many decades, and the advent of AI self-driving cars will occur while there are still human driven cars on the roads. This is a crucial point since this means that the AI of self-driving cars needs to be able to contend with not just other AI self-driving cars, but also contend with human driven cars. It is easy to envision a simplistic and rather unrealistic world in which all AI self-driving cars are politely interacting with each other and being civil about roadway interactions. That’s not what is going to be happening for the foreseeable future. AI self-driving cars and human driven cars will need to be able to cope with each other.

For my article about the grand convergence that has led us to this moment in time, see:

See my article about the ethical dilemmas facing AI self-driving cars:

For potential regulations about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For my predictions about AI self-driving cars for the 2020s, 2030s, and 2040s, see my article:

Returning to the topic of dementia driving, the AI of a self-driving car ought to be imbued with an ability to assess other drivers and whether they are driving in a “safe and sane” manner. Since the AI cannot somehow reach into the mind of human drivers that are on-the-road, the AI must observe the behavior of the car and infer from that observable behavior the likely state-of-mind of the human driver.

Presumably, if there’s a car up ahead that is another AI self-driving car, the AI of the AI self-driving car behind it does not need to worry as much about the AI driven car as it would of a human driven car. Some AI developers would argue that the AI of one self-driving car should actually have zero worries and zero need to observe another AI self-driving car, since the other AI self-driving car is going to always do the right thing and not make any errors that a human driver might make (so these AI developers would claim).

This perspective by some AI developers is what I refer to as an idealistic view, which I sometimes also described as an egocentric design view.

For the mind of drivers, see my article:

For the times when AI self-driving cars will be performing illegal driving acts, see my article:

For when AI self-driving cars foul-up due to errors or faults, see my article:

For when AI self-driving cars have the system freeze-up, see my article:

Differing AI For Differing AI Autonomous Cars

Let’s acknowledge that once we get to true Level 5 self-driving cars, not all the respective AI’s will be the same. Different automakers and different tech firms will have developed different kinds of AI systems for their own proprietary self-driving car models. As such, each AI self-driving car model that comes from different automakers will act and react in different ways from each other.

Furthermore, since there will be different AI’s, there will be likely different ways of driving, and the AI of one self-driving car ought to be watching out for the behaviors of the AI of other self-driving cars.

That being said, I certainly concede that presumably the AI of another AI self-driving car is supposed to ultimately be more reliable, more consistent, more prone to proper driving than would be human drivers. Let me make clear that I am not suggesting that the AI only observe other AI self-driving cars, and somehow not observe human driven cars too.

I am instead clarifying and emphasizing that for those that assume the AI would only try to observe human driven cars for driving behavior, I’d argue that’s insufficient and the AI should also be observing the other AI driven cars too.

Fortunately, it will likely be easier for one AI self-driving car to directly communicate with another AI self-driving car, since they will hopefully be using in-common V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications. This would make things easier in the sense that the AI of one self-driving car might ask another AI as to why it just suddenly and unexpectedly changed lanes ahead, which maybe the other AI might reply that there is debris in the lane ahead and thus it then explains the seemingly odd behavior and also aids the other AI in avoiding the same debris.

Imagine if we humans were all using our cell phones while driving and continually conversing with each other. Hey you, in the red sports car ahead, why did you make that crazy right turn? Though this might be a means to aid traffic, it could also spark quite a bit of road rage. No more needing to just raise your finger to make a statement to another driver, you could speak with them directly. I’d dare say our roads would turn into boxing matches. It wouldn’t be pretty.

For my article about road rage, see:

In any case, let’s get back to the notion that the AI of your self-driving car will be observing the behavior of other cars. Doing so will aid the AI in trying to anticipate or predict what the other car might next do. By being able to make insightful predictions, the AI of your self-driving car will have a chance at being a better defensive driver and avoid untoward incidents. The AI will also be able to line-up evasive actions when needed, doing so before there is insufficient time left to react to an emerging dire situation.

What kinds of telltale clues might a dementia-laden driver provide?

Here’s some that we train our AI to be on the lookout for:

  • Riding of the brakes as exhibited by continual brake lights or slowing inexplicably
  • Pumping of the brakes repeatedly even though there is no apparent reason to do so
  • Signaling to make a right turn and then making no turn or making a left turn
  • Signaling to make a left turn and then making no turn or making a right turn
  • Turn signal continuously on for no apparent reason since no turning action is arising
  • Rolls through a stop sign
  • Speeds-up, slows down, speeds-up, slows down, but not due to traffic conditions
  • Not driving in a defensive manner and gets stuck or trapped in obvious traffic predicaments
  • Runs a red light
  • Comes to a halt in traffic when there is no apparent cause
  • Makes attempts at exits or turns and then suddenly reverts away from the attempt
  • Veers into the emergency lane or bike lane and no apparent cause to do so
  • Nearly hits other cars or pedestrians or roadway objects
  • Goes radically slower than the rest of traffic
  • Goes radically faster than the rest of traffic
  • Other cars are having to get out of the way of the observed car
  • Other cars honk their horns at the observed car or make other untoward motions
  • Keeps changing lanes when there is no apparent reason to do so
  • Cuts off other cars when changing lanes and making other maneuvers
  • Other

Caveats About Dementia Driving Behaviors

Please make sure to review this dementia-laden driving symptoms list with a grain of salt.

I am sure all of us have performed one or more of those kinds of driving actions from time-to-time. Maybe you are groggy from that late-night partying and in the morning your driving is not at your usual peak performance. Maybe you are in a foul mood and taking it out on the rest of the traffic. Plus, novice teenage driver often performs those same moves, primarily because they are still wrestling with the basics of driving and aren’t sure of what they are doing.

The notion is that any of those driving actions in isolation could be due to any number of reasons. I once had a bee that got into my car while I was driving, and I regrettably weaved across the lanes as I was trying to get the scary critter out of my car. A momentary act that appears out of the ordinary should be construed as a potential warning that perhaps the driver is somehow amiss, but it usually takes more than one single act to fully make it onto the “watch out for that car” mindset (unless the single act is so egregious that it is clear cut that something bad is happening).

You might be wondering what the big deal is about detecting a car that has these kinds of foul driving actions?

The odds are that once you spot this kind of behavior emerging, it will likely continue if the driver has some systemic issues involved in their driving. This gives the AI a heads-up to be especially wary of that car.

For example, if the AI detected that a car ahead was needlessly riding its brakes, this might be a sign that the driver might soon take some other dangerous action such as a wild turn or veering into other lanes. The AI would then anticipate this possibility and potentially change the path of the self-driving car. It might be safer to route to another road or perhaps let the car ahead get some distance between the AI self-driving car and it. These are all prudent defensive driving actions by the AI and would be spurred when a car appears to be driven in an untoward manner.

Some of you might be saying that these kinds of driving moves could be undertaken by a drunk driver. You are indeed right! I would suggest that a drunk driver could do any or all of those kinds of driving moves. A drunk driver might do those and even go further and make even worse moves. Can you for sure distinguish between a drunk driver and a dementia-laden driver, based on the behavior exhibited by the car’s actions? It is hard to assert that you could make such a distinction without otherwise scrutinizing the actual human driver to figure out what is afoot.

For more about drunk driving, see my article:

For my article about Machine Learning and AI self-driving cars, see:

For safety issues of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For how AI self-driving cars can sometimes drive erratically too, see my article:

For swarms of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

If an AI self-driving car is able to detect a potential dementia-laden driver, it could try to alert other nearby AI self-driving cars about the matter. Using the V2V, the AI might send a message to be on-the-watch for a blue sedan that is at the corner of Main and Sprout street and heading west. Other AI self-driving cars would then be able to likewise be prepared for evasive action. There is even the possibility of using a swarm-like approach to provide a safety driving traffic cocoon for the driver.

I realize that this seems a bit like Big Brother to have other cars watching for and then taking semi-collective action about another driver that is on-the-road. I would claim though that this already happens to some extent with human drivers acting at times in a collective manner.

In the case of the grandfather, the other drivers in the neighborhood knew that he was a driver that was increasingly getting worse and worse. They would often “shield” his driving by purposely driving near to him and helping to clear traffic nearby. It was almost like a parade of cars, but the “star” of the parade was not even aware that his fellow neighbors were taking such an action (which reinforces that his dementia was bad enough that he couldn’t discern what the other traffic was doing for him).

Some drivers that have dementia will at least try to minimize their chances of getting themselves into trouble. For example, if they have an especially difficult time when driving in a location they do not know, they will drive only on streets they do know. If they have a difficult time comprehending traffic at nighttime, they will purposely only drive during daylight. If they know that lots of other traffic confounds them, they’ll wait until the least traffic periods to then get onto the roadway. Etc.

Ultimately, if the dementia overtakes the ability to appropriately drive a car, something will need to be done to ensure that the person does not get behind the wheel. The so-called “taking away the keys” has got to be one of the hardest acts to undertake. It is hard for the person that is forfeiting their keys and the privilege of driving. It is hard for whomever has to take away the keys. The matter can create ill will and taint the rest of the person’s existence.

The good news is that with the advent of true Level 5 self-driving cars, it is anticipated that those with dementia will still be able to have the mobility they crave, simply by using AI self-driving cars to get them where they want to go. Sure, they won’t be able to get behind the wheel of the car, but I think they’ll accept the notion of being a passenger rather than a driver, particularly due to the aspect that lots and lots of other people will be doing so too. In other words, those people getting into AI self-driving cars will include many that could drive if they wished, and instead they prefer to let the driving be done by the AI self-driving car. The person with dementia won’t stand out as someone using an AI self-driving car since we’ll all be routinely using AI self-driving cars.

For more about ridesharing and AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For my article about the privacy aspects of AI self-driving cars, see:

For future jobs involving aiding others that are using AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For the possibility of becoming addicted to using AI self-driving cars, see my article:


Family members and friends are usually the first to realize that someone is succumbing to dementia. Allowing an untoward driver onto the roadways is nearly the same as letting a drunk driver onto the road. Most of us would likely try to stop someone that is drunk from getting behind the wheel. It’s easier, of course to do so since it is likely a one-time stopping action and not something of a more permanent nature.

The person with dementia will eventually reach a crossover point that makes their driving dangerous for themselves and dangerous for everyone else. Hopefully, if you do need to intervene and take away the keys, the advent of AI self-driving cars will have become so pervasive that their shifting into a ride sharing mode of using AI self-driving cars will ease the agony of losing the privilege to drive a car.

Since we will have a mixture of both human driven cars and AI self-driving cars for a long time, you’ll unfortunately still need to be ready to be the gatekeeper of dealing with the key’s removal aspects. In any case, the AI of the self-driving car has to be savvy enough to be watchful for dementia-laden drivers and take the kinds of evasive actions to save the lives of those intertwined in traffic with that untoward driver. I think we can all agree we’d want the AI to be watchful and have the capability to contend with these potentially life-and-death matters.

Copyright 2020 Dr. Lance Eliot

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.

[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column:]