The Automobile Association of America (AAA), in partnership with the
University of Florida's National Older Driver Research and Training
Center (NODRTC), recently released its "Smart Features for Mature Drivers"
The program identifies vehicle features that can assist drivers with visual, physical, and mental changes that are frequently encountered as they age. The announcement addresses conditions often faced by senior adults, including diminished vision, arthritic hands, hip and leg pain, and limited upper-body range of motion, and also highlights features that best address each condition while providing examples of vehicles exemplifying those features.
"It is imperative that the specific needs of aging motorists be addressed in order for them to continue to drive safely and remain independent," said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. "Smart Features for Mature Drivers provides valuable information for this growing segment of the driving population. We encourage older drivers and their families to use this as a guide in the selection of their next vehicle or evaluating their current one."
Persons over age 65 represent the fastest growing population segment in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were more than 37 million people age 65 and older in the United States in 2006, up from 29 million in 2005. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers age 65 and older.
a person ages, physiological changes can affect driving ability. 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.
"Many of the changes our bodies experience as we age can affect our ability to safely operate a vehicle," said Dennis P. McCarthy, co-director of the University of Florida's NODRTC. "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."
In a recent survey, AAA found that 43 percent of motorists over the age of 55 suffered from at least one of nine driving related difficulties commonly caused by aging, and nearly one out of four motorists over 55 plan to purchase a vehicle in the next two years.
Because everyone ages differently, AAA recommends mature drivers look for vehicles with features that address their specific needs and health issues. Some of the recommendations included in "Smart Features for Mature Drivers" include:
- * Drivers suffering from hip or leg pain, decreased leg strength or limited knee range of motion should look for vehicles with six-way adjustable power seats and seat heights that come between the driver's mid-thigh and lower buttocks. Both of these features can make it easier for drivers to enter and exit a vehicle.
- * Drivers with arthritic hands, painful or stiff fingers or diminished fine motor skills would benefit from four-door models, thick steering wheels, keyless entry and ignition, power mirrors and seats and larger dashboard controls with buttons.
- * Drivers with diminished vision or problems with low contrast sensitivity will find helpful vehicles with extendable sun visors, large audio and climate controls and displays with contrasting text.
AAA's "Smart Features for Mature Drivers" also includes vehicle features recommended for all seniors, regardless of their health issues, such as:
- * Proven crashworthiness, crash test and rollover ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (safercar.gov) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (iihs.org/ratings)
- * Side and dual-stage/threshold airbags that adjust the deployment force based on the severity of the crash
- * Adjustable head restraints and extra padding
- * Antilock brakes
- * Dynamic stability control
"AAA is committed to keeping seniors driving as long as safely possible through our Lifelong Safe Mobility initiative," Darbelnet added. "By providing public services such as Smart Features for Mature Drivers, AAA aims to keep our growing senior population safe behind the wheel." Since the Auto Club was founded in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying organization has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.
As part of the program, AAA has launched a Web site with content devoted to senior drivers and their families at AAA.com/seniors, where users can download informative information and PDFs, including a brochure titled "Smart Features for Mature Drivers" which outlines specific vehicle features and how they help meet the needs of mature drivers and another booklet which provides a list of vehicles and their options suitable for mature drivers. Finally, one other especially useful booklet titled "Car Fit" helps mature drivers discover how the “fit” of their vehicle affects your driving and adapt their vehicle to your changing
The site also offers those over 55 years old an excellent self test to help users determine what it means to be a "safe driver" and to help older drivers decide when might be the right time to give up the driver's license and seek other forms of transportation.
There's plenty of information here that can be useful to those of us whose parents are getting to an age where a little driving assistance might be helpful. Be sure to browse the site to discover all that it has to offer.
photos courtesy AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety