Older motorists should take advantage of ësmart featuresí that can make driving safer and more comfortable.
While older Americans feel and act ìyoungerî these days, it may not be wise for empty nesters to trade in their SUVs and minivans for something sportier to help them cruise through retirement. According to the AAA in Washington, D.C., 90 percent of motorists age 65 and older suffer from health issues from arthritis to diminished vision that can affect their safety behind the wheel.
ìWith 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, we know that families will be coping with these age-related driving safety issues for years to come,î says AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet. ìThe good news is that specific 'smart features' on today's cars can help older drivers and their families deal with these conditions.î
Unfortunately, a recent AAA survey indicates that only one in 10 seniors drive a vehicle thatís equipped with features that can not only make driving safer, but more comfortable as well.
For starters, older drivers should choose a vehicle thatís easy to enter and exit. Many of todayís cars feature odd-shaped door openings and raked windshields that can make it difficult for taller or less-limber drivers to get behind the wheel. Avoid coupes with large doors that can be hard to close and tend to sit lower to the ground than sedans. Likewise, avoid taller trucks and SUVs that test oneís climbing abilities. Tilt and telescoping steering wheels help drivers of all sizes find an optimal ìfit.î
Look for cars that have comfortable seats with multi-position adjustments and selectable seat height and lumbar support. Seat bottoms should come between the driver's mid-thigh and lower buttocks for optimal comfort. Heated seats can help ease creaking joints or lower back pain while en route. Avoid models with so-called sport seats that include stiff bolsters at the sides of the back and bottom cushions (for added support during extreme handling maneuvers) that tend to trade off comfort and can make ingress and egress more difficult.
Nissan introduced what it calls zero-gravity seats on its 2013 midsize Altima sedan that are based on posture research from NASA. They employ a unique articulated seat shape with continuous support from the pelvis to the chest and are said to help reduce muscular and spinal loads and improve blood flow.
Seniors with vision problems should look for vehicles that feature large and legible gauges. Some models include a digital readout for vehicle speed that can be easier to spot and process than a conventional speedometer. Those with high/low contrast issues should pick a vehicle that has auto-dimming rear- and side-view mirrors to minimize glare at night.
Pick a model with sizable knobs and buttons for the audio and climate control systems along with power-operated mirrors to help reduce the amount of grip strength needed and reduce pain associated with turning or twisting motions. Avoid models fitted with overly complex menu-driven touchscreen displays and too-crowded dashboard controls to help minimize dangerous distractions.
Drivers with arthritic hands, painful or stiff fingers or diminished fine motor skills should look for cars with thick steering wheels and easy-to-operate gearshifts. Addressing the latter, the 2013 Lincoln MKX crossover SUV brings back a feature the industry hasnít seen since the 1960s, namely a dashboard-mounted pushbutton gear selector. Similarly, a remote pushbutton entry and start feature can be easier on arthritic hands than a conventional key. A new feature introduced on the 2013 Ford Escape compact crossover SUV allows those burdened with baggage to engage the available power-operated liftgate via a simple kicking motion with oneís foot under the rear bumper (provided the carís keyfob is in a pocket or purse).
The AAA maintains a database of information on which vehicles are best for older motorists, along with other senior-driving issues, at www.seniordriving.aaa.com.
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