Safer Cars For Seniors
By Kevin Miller
Last summer, my eighty-seven year old grandmother asked me to help her find a car to replace her 14-year-old Ford Taurus wagon. After determining that she still had the necessary skills and mental acuity to be on the road, I started researching which vehicles are appropriate for older drivers. Despite my knowledge about cars, and my internet-searching prowess, I could not find any good resources to tell me what older drivers should be looking for in a car. The AAA has now announced a program to do just that- help older drivers know what to look for when shopping for a new car.
In partnership with the University of Florida’s National Older Driver Research and Training Center (NODRTC), AAA released its Smart Features for Mature Drivers at the New York International Auto Show. The program identifies vehicle features that can assist drivers with visual, physical and mental changes that are frequently encountered as they age. Muscle strength, reaction times, range of motion and visual acuity tend to diminish as part of the natural aging process. Also, the increased prevalence of health issues such as arthritis, hip and knee joint pain or osteoporosis can reduce the ability to safely execute the complex task of driving. My grandmother’s knee pain, as well as arthritis in her hands, were two concerns when we were shopping for her car.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 29 million licensed drivers age 65 and older in the United States in 2005. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers age 65 and older. “When looking for ways to help maintain an older person’s safety, it’s important to address the vehicle they are driving. Today, specific vehicle features can help improve driver comfort and safety.” says Dennis P. McCarthy, co-director of the University of Florida’s NODRTC.
Some of the recommendations included in the AAA program include:
· Vehicles with six-way adjustable power seats and seat heights that come between the driver’s mid-thigh and lower buttocks. These features can make it easier for drivers and passengers to enter and exit a vehicle.
· Vehicles with four-doors, thick steering wheels, keyless entry and ignition, power mirrors and seats and larger dashboard controls with buttons. These features can make it easier for those with arthritic joints to enter vehicles and operate controls
· Vehicles with extendable sun visors, large audio and climate controls and displays with contrasting text. These features can help drivers with reduced visual acuity better see vehicle controls and displays.
AAA’s Smart Features for Mature Drivers also includes recommended vehicle safety features, which would benefit any vehicle buyer: Proven crashworthiness, crash test and rollover ratings, side and dual-stage/threshold airbags, adjustable head restraints, antilock brakes, and stability control.
Without this guide from AAA last summer, I started by asking my grandmother what she liked about her Taurus, and what she didn’t like, as well as what she’d like her new car to have that the Taurus didn’t. That helped me come up with criteria for her new car:
-Easy to get in and out of
-Easy to see out of
-Easy/understandable to operate
-Small and maneuverable enough to park easily
Additionally, I wanted to make sure her new vehicle was a safe one. Because it can be more difficult for older people to heal after injury, I wanted to be sure that if she was ever in an accident, she would be as safe as possible. I made a list of suitable cars, and we went out to test drive several models. She test drove a Volvo S40, Subaru Forester, Honda Fit, and Honda Civic. She ended up buying the S40, and she loves it. I was glad to get her in to a car that is safe, and one in which she feels comfortable behind the wheel.
With the AAA’s new Smart Features for Mature Drivers program, more senior-aged drivers should be able to identify vehicles which will be easier and safer for them to use, which in turn can lead to safer roads for all drivers. With an estimated 11 million more drivers reaching 65 years of age in the next 12 years, anything that can be done to keep those drivers safe will help. To check out all of the Smart Features for Mature Drivers, you can check out the program’s website at AAA.com/seniors.
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