In America, we've had a long-standing love affair with our automobiles because they fulfill our needs on many levels. At a very basic level, they provide us transportation to maintain our independence. At a higher level, our cars can be an extension of who we are: our lifestyles wrapped up in metal, fabric, plastic and rubber. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), by 2030, more than 70 million Americans will be age 65 or older, and at least 90 percent of them will be licensed to drive. In a recent study, they found that more than one-third (37 percent) of drivers age 65 and up had at least one critical safety issue with their vehicle.
On any given day, hundreds of Ohio families consider whether an aging loved one can still drive safely. Thankfully, through new features and innovations from the auto industry, these families aren't stuck with just the question of if, but also can consider how a loved one can retain his independence and keep driving. The key may be in helping the individual find a vehicle with the proper fit.
Many of the standard safety features on cars manufactured in the last 15 years (e.g., airbags, adjustable seats, headrests and mirrors, adjustable steering, increased visibility) are the same ones experts recommend to keep older drivers safely on the road longer. But, simple design elements also can contribute to driver safety and comfort. Ask yourself a few questions about the car you are or a loved one is driving:
- Is the vehicle easy to get into and out of? Some cars can be too low, requiring bending and ducking, while others can be too tall, requiring the driver to unsafely climb aboard.
- Do you fit? Can you position your seat a safe distance (at least 10 inches) from the steering wheel and the airbag it contains? Can you confidently reach the pedals from this distance?
- Are the controls within reach, easy to see and read, and mounted near eye-level to reduce the need to look away from the road? Do the controls fit your hand and are they simple to operate?
Here are a few practical "options" that may provide additional safety:
- Power seats, windows and mirrors;
- Power adjustable foot pedals;
- Extendable visors;
- Power, six-way adjustable seats;
- Keyless entry and ignition;
- Rear-mounted camera;
- Collision warning systems and parking sensors; and
- Satellite navigation systems.
Make sure the driver fully understands how to use these options effectively.
According to Forbes.com, about one-fifth of all new vehicle buyers are age 65 and older. Manufacturers know this and are building vehicles that have the styling and performance we want with the safety and comfort we need, all without reminding us that we are getting older. With some critical thinking about your driving needs, most of us can continue to "own the road" with the confidence that we and our loved ones are safe.
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