TOLEDO - AAA, in partnership with the University of Florida’s National Older Driver Research and Training Center (NODRTC), released its Smart Features for Mature Drivers lat last month’s New York International Auto Show.
AAA’s Smart Features for Mature Drivers 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, highlights features that best address each condition and provides 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 marketing operations manager, April Cochran. “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 fast 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 and 29 million were licensed drivers in 2005. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers age 65 and older.
As 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.
Concurrent to the release of Smart Features for Mature Drivers, AAA launched a Web site with content devoted to senior drivers and their families at AAA.com/seniors.