New Car Features for Senior Drivers

January 8th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

Senior drivers are still safer than teens, and new accessories could widen the gap further.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Good news for older drivers: They still have a better crash record than teens.

A new AAA report culled from 15 years of national crash data shows that drivers in their 60s have the same crash rate as those in their 30s, and drivers in their 80s have half the crash rate of teenagers. But, AAA asserts, the numbers could improve further if senior drivers were driving cars that suited their needs, including features such as keyless entry and larger dashboard controls that could help those with fading vision and arthritis.

Sharon Berlin, a research analyst with AAA, told NPR’s Sonari Glinton that older drivers “are actually among the safest drivers on the roads,” since they’re more likely to wear seat belts, less likely to drink and drive, and drive more slowly.

With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, a car market with easier-to-use features could be a gold mine for automakers, and a boon to public safety. The NPR story highlighted some features that carmakers are trying to design to make driving easier and more comfortable. Among them, the new Ford Focus park assist, which “can basically park the car itself.” New Infinitis can alert drivers to vehicles located in the blind spot, while Mercedes-Benz’s lane-keeping assist technology sends a warning before drivers drift out of their lane.

Lisa Molnar, a lead research associate at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, told NPR that though many of the new features are specifically intended for older drivers, they’re also examples of good universal design.

An Oregon Live story reports that experts are increasingly advocating for what they’re calling a “silver tsunami” system of matching vehicle features with older drivers’ specific health concerns, ranging from six-way adjustable seats for people with limited knee range to thicker steering wheels for arthritic hands. Similarly, the AAA’s website offers a guide to help seniors find the right vehicles and accessories to make driving more comfortable.

What would be on your wish list for new car features? And is there a way to make them appeal to senior drivers and younger drivers alike?