Sunday, November 9, 2008

Best Cars and Features for Older Drivers

The fastest growing segment on the road today is not hybrids or flex-fuel vehicles, crossovers or performance sport sedans. It is drivers 65 and older. According to the according to the American Automobile Association, there are 29 million older drivers on the road today.

We all age differently, so it is important to recognize how your body is changing, not just at the gym or on the tennis court or ski slope, but behind how you drive:

Age 40 -- multi-tasking becomes more challenging, such as concentrating at the same time on the navigation system and the traffic in front of you. Also, recovery from glare is reduced, which affects your comfort level driving at night.

Age 60 -- muscle strength and range of motion decrease by as much as 25 percent. That affects your ability to get in and out of the vehicle, and how easily and far you can turn around in the driver seat to check conditions in the blind spot.

Age 70 - arthritic joints can make it difficult to grasp the steering wheel, and diabetes, stroke or Parkinson’s disease can affect perception.

And, any time, conditions such as hip or knee surgery, further affect mobility. But it’s not all bad news. AAA and the University of Florida’s Older Driver Research and Training Center have identified vehicle features that address these conditions, to help us drive safely and comfortably in the so-called mature years. Although the report is called “Smart Features for Mature Drivers”, many of these features work for anybody considering buying a new car soon, whether that's a 2009 model, or a certified pre-owned used car.

Here are some features that work for all of us --
  • four-door vehicles, since doors are lighter and easier to open than two-door coupes.

  • performance sports models usually have seats with more heavily padded side and thigh bolsters, which are more difficult to get into and out of than vehicles with flatter seats,

  • heated seats with lumbar support are great for anybody at any age with back pain,

  • for drivers with reduced leg strength or mobility, a higher SUV can be easier to get in and out of than a sedan, since its higher seat reduces bending. Or, you might do better with a vehicle with a lower door, such as a minivan,

  • keyless entry and keyless ignition are more than convenient – they prevent the difficulty or pain caused by having to turn a key. Also, a thick steering wheel requires less hand and wrist strength to grip and handle to make turns. And this turns out to be a smart feature also for younger drivers who make long, daily commutes.

  • power mirrors and seats are easier to adjust for drivers with limited strength or arthritis,

  • power trunk or tailgate closers are as helpful to mature drivers with limited arm strength as they are to younger drivers juggling squirming toddlers.

  • dashboard design is important, too. Large, clear, easy-to-read numbers on the speedometer and odometer are important, especially to drivers wearing bifocals. Larger audio and climate controls with buttons are easier to manipulate than knobs, especially for drivers with vision affected by glaucoma or cataracts, or whose “fine motor skills” are diminishing.

  • a navigation system that is relatively uncomplicated also reduces distraction.

  • large, wide angle side mirrors and rear-view mirrors help compensate for limited range of motion or difficulties twisting to check for blind spots while merging or backing up.

  • a rear camera to aid with backing up is a helpful option to consider, as are radar-based systems that assist with parking and maintaining distance from the vehicle in front on the highway – what’s known as collision avoidance systems.

Vehicles with Smart Features for Mature Drivers come in all price ranges. More about those down the road in a future posting.

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