Automotive technologies is now highly recommended and even considered a must for senior drivers according to a piece in AARP The Magazine in the October/November issue just received.
As more of the new auto technology is becoming available on a wider range of models and price points, the opportunity for seniors to obtain and take advantage of these technologies has increased.
Being an auto journalist and also a senior driver, I have had the first hand experience of watching these technologies evolve both in terms of functionality and ease of use or convenience for drivers as they have become more cost effectively available across a wider range of vehicle brands and models.
First though, no technology in the automobile ever takes the place of a senior driver making sure that they are sufficiently healthy to be driving well into their senior years.
Get regular physical exams, understand the impacts of your prescription drugs (as they may pertain to driving) and, especially, get your eyesight checked regularly and wear your prescription lenses while driving. Lastly, get regular exercise that includes stretching, range of motion exercise and strength maintenance as well as addressing your cardiovascular health.
I also strongly recommend taking a driver refresher training course or at least taking a defensive driving course that is available in your area if you are approaching or are now in your senior years.
In most states and with most insurance companies, you can also get an insurance cost reduction for your auto policy if you provide a certificate of completion of a defensive driving program.
AARP offers a course on line for seniors called the AARP 55 Alive for seniors to improve their driving skills and can also help them save on their insurance.
Similar programs are available on line or in classroom almost everywhere a senior driver may live.
The certificates are usually only good for a couple of years of insurance savings, so it serves as an incentive to renew the certificate every couple of years to save you money and it will serve to keep your skill capabilities refreshed.
Very importantly, as you consider a vehicle with these technologies, proactively engage your dealer to show you each of these technologies that are available in each vehicle you are considering.
Each manufacturer ‘s technology operates a bit differently than another. In particular, their placement of the control mechanisms and/or the visibility screens (size, placement and resolution) can be a factor. Just having it is not good enough. Make sure you can easily see it, reach it, touch it and adjust it as necessary while you are driving.
According to the AARP article on the top ten, a study by The Hartford and MIT AgeLab’s research on Top Technologies for Mature Drivers identified certain technologies they saw as beneficial for senior drivers.
Their study looked at senior driver comfort and confidence in using those technologies. They also consulted with leading experts, practitioners and researchers with expertise in geriatric medicine, kinesiology, human factors, and occupational therapy to develop their list.
In developing their top ten technologies, they focused on areas that they heard from seniors as being areas of concern in operating their automobiles.
High on the list was being able to see at night. Good night vision is often a problem for seniors and thought their study lists smart or adaptive headlight systems as being important, I would caution that seniors identified by their doctors as having diminished night vision capability consider restricting their driving to daylight hours even if they have a vehicle with adaptive headlight systems.
Other top concerns from the seniors included freeway driving, lane changing, entering, accelerating and merging into traffic and the use of technologies by themselves and others in the vehicle.
The top ten technologies from the study listed by AARP included:
Smart headlights: adjust the range and intensity of light based on the distance of traffic to reduce glare and improve night vision. (note my caution on this one)
Emergency response systems: offer quick assistance to drivers in the case of a medical emergency or collision, often allowing emergency personnel to get to the scene more quickly. OnStar is the most well known with others becoming available on other than GM Brands.
Rear camera and back up monitoring systems: warn of objects to the rear of the vehicle to help drivers judge distances and back up safely, and helps drivers with reduced flexibility. The ones with moving guidelines are especially helpful in that they show the driver where they heading to as they back up.
Blind spot warning systems: warn drivers of objects in blind spots, especially while changing lanes and parking, and helps those with limited range of motion such as being able to turn their heads easily to check their blind spot.
Lane departure warning: monitors the vehicle’s position and warns the driver if the vehicle deviates outside the lane, helping drivers stay in their lane.
Vehicle stability control: helps to automatically bring the vehicle back in the intended line of travel, particularly in situations where the driver underestimates the angle of a curve or experiences weather effects, and reduces the likelihood of a crash.
Parking assist systems: enable vehicles to park on their own or indicates distance to objects, reducing driver stress, making parking easier, and increasing the places that a driver can park.
Voice activated systems: allow drivers to access features by voice command so they can keep focused on the road.
Crash mitigation systems: detect when the vehicle may be in danger of a collision and can help to minimize injuries to passengers.
Drowsy driver alerts: monitor the degree to which a driver may be inattentive while on the road and helps alert drivers to the driving task.
There are a couple of others I would add to the list that may be implied in some of the above.
Rear cross traffic alert: monitors crossing traffic approaching in parking lots that you may not be able to see due to cars parked next to you.
Adaptive cruise control: allows you to set your desired speed, monitors your distance to the car in front of you and adjusts your speed accordingly to maintain that distance.
All wheel drive: particularly those that send power to individual wheels based on driving conditions and your situation can help you maintain control of your vehicle in emergency situations and inclement weather conditions.
Once you have made your selection and purchased your car, make sure the dealer thoroughly trains you in the operation of all of the technologies.
Remember your best interest should also be theirs. If you are able to continue to be a good and safe senior driver and you were satisfied in how the dealer treated you, you will likely be back to purchase another one from them in a few years.