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smart features for older drivers

Nearly nine in 10 seniors drive a car that doesn’t fit their needs.
By AAA Staff

Senior drivers are among the safest drivers on the road because of their knowledge and experience, but ability to drive also requires healthy visual, physical, and cognitive capabilities, which all can be weakened significantly by natural age-related changes.


Above and in title: Among the features for senior drivers to consider, especially those with arthritis or diminished fine motor skills, are larger dashboard controls, push-button ignition, keyless entry, and rain sensors that eliminate the need to manually control wipers.

Drivers who have problems seeing the road at night or who have diminished vision due to glaucoma, cataracts, or other conditions should consider larger controls with contrasting text, high-contrast instrument panels, auto-dimming rearview mirrors and glare-reducing side mirrors.


Technology, however, can sometimes help make up for the effects of aging.

With nearly 90 percent of motorists 65 and older suffering from health issues that impact driving safety, finding a car that not only adapts to conditions, such as lack of flexibility or muscle strength, while maintaining safety and comfort can be difficult. Data from a new AAA survey also reveals that only one in 10 senior drivers with aging health issues is driving a vehicle that has features like keyless entry and larger dashboard controls that can assist with such conditions.

To better equip older drivers for driving safety and comfort, AAA has updated its Smart Features for Older Drivers guide to address a broader range of health conditions and include new data on 2012 vehicle features. As a leading advocate for senior driver safety, AAA launched Smart Features for Older Drivers in partnership with the University of Florida’s Institute for Mobility, Activity and Participation in 2008. In the update, Smart Features identifies vehicle features that optimize older driver safety and comfort, lists current vehicles with those features, and allows users to explore their individual needs through an interactive online tool, available at

“With 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,” said Mike Right, vice president of AAA Public Affairs. “The good news is that specific ‘smart features’ on today’s cars can help older drivers and their families deal with these conditions.”

Smart Features addresses a wide variety of conditions that are commonly experienced with aging, including diminished vision, arthritic joints, hip and leg pain, and limited upper-body range of motion. “As a person ages, muscle strength, range of motion and vision tend to diminish and can affect driving ability,” said Dr. Sherrilene Classen, director of the Institute for Mobility, Activity, and Participation at the University of Florida. “Not only do these conditions affect a driver’s comfort, their presence can also reduce the ability to safely execute the complex task of driving.”

Because everyone ages differently, AAA recommends older drivers look for vehicles that address their specific needs and medical conditions. Some of the recommendations included in Smart Features for Older 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. 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 benefit from four-door models, thick steering wheels, keyless entry and ignition, power mirrors and seats, and larger dashboard controls with buttons. These features reduce the amount of grip strength needed and reduce pain associated with turning or twisting motions.

• Drivers with diminished vision or problems with high-low contrast will find vehicles with auto-dimming mirrors, large audio and climate controls, and displays with contrasting text helpful. These features can reduce blinding glare and make controls and displays easier to see.

Underscoring the need to improve older driver safety is the fact that people over 65 represent the fastest-growing segment of the population in the United States. By 2020, there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers age 65 and older. By 2030, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be at least 65 years old.

Yet despite public perception, older drivers do not pose a disproportionate threat on the roads. On average, drivers in their mid- to late-80s have lower crash rates per mile driven than drivers in their early 20s and roughly half the crash rate of teenagers. Additionally, while crashes per mile driven decreased for drivers of all ages between 1995 and 2010 by 28 percent, the biggest decreases were found in drivers ages 75-79, down 42 percent; and for drivers ages 80-84, down 40 percent.

However, while senior driver crash rates are lower, new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that older drivers have the highest rates of death compared to other drivers, largely due to their inability to survive a crash. Indeed, the primary risk factor facing older drivers is fragility, the susceptibility to injury due to a crash.

“To avoid crashes, it’s important for seniors to assess their capabilities and choose a vehicle with the right features that can improve their safety and comfort behind the wheel,” Right said. “Seniors are the most experienced drivers on the road, and it just takes some adjusting for their bodies to keep pace with their knowledge.”

For more information on which vehicles are the right fit for you and to access all the free resources AAA offers to senior drivers, visit

9 out of 10

Jan/Feb 2013 Issue

Finding a vehicle
to meet your needs

The Smart Features for Older Drivers guide is accompanied by a vehicle listing that highlights the presence of features that can help drivers accommodate physical, visual, and mental changes. More than 200 top-selling vehicles are listed. To see or print the list, click on

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