It's no secret that, while older drivers as a group are among the safest on the road, aging does take its toll on some functions and capabilities that are critical to the driving task.
It's also true that seniors, broadly defined as anyone over the age of 50, are more likely than any other age group to buy the types of vehicles that contain modern safety technologies, according to Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist at The Hartford. (The U.S.-based Hartford Financial Services Group is a provider of insurance and wealth management services, worldwide.)
That's why, said Olshevski, "We set out to identify the top ten features that mature drivers should consider."
Building on more than a decade of research on older driver safety, The Hartford and MIT AgeLab worked with a panel of experts in driving, aging and technology to conduct an in-depth study that reviewed 25 new technologies and identified the top ten in terms of benefit for mature drivers.
That top ten list includes:
1. Smart headlights: adjust the range and intensity of light based on the distance of traffic and to reduce glare and improve night vision;
2. Emergency response systems: offer quick assistance to drivers in the case of a medical emergency or collision, often allowing emergency personnel to get to the scene more quickly;
3. Reverse monitoring systems: warn of objects to the rear of the vehicle to help drivers judge distances and back up safely, and helps drivers with reduced flexibility;
4. Blind spot warning systems: warn drivers of objects in blind spots, especially while changing lanes and parking, and helps those with limited range of motion;
5. Lane departure warning: monitors the vehicle's position and warns the driver if the vehicle deviates outside the lane, helping drivers stay in their lane;
6. Vehicle stability control: helps to automatically bring the vehicle back in the intended line of travel, particularly in situations where the driver underestimates the angle of a curve or experiences weather effects, and reduces the likelihood of a crash;
7. Assistive parking systems: enable vehicles to park on their own or indicates distance to objects, reducing driver stress, making parking easier, and increasing the places that a driver can park;
8. Voice activated systems: allow drivers to access features by voice command so they can keep focused on the road;
9. Crash mitigation systems: detect when the vehicle may be in danger of a collision and can help to minimize injuries to passengers;
10. Drowsy driver alerts: monitor the degree to which a driver may be inattentive while on the road and helps alert drivers to the driving task.
"As more and more of these features are incorporated into vehicles, we believe that it's important for drivers to be knowledgeable of and use those technologies that can enhance safe driving capacity, comfort, and confidence," said Joseph F. Coughlin, director, MIT AgeLab.
What you can do
Beyond just identifying the most helpful technologies, Hartford and MIT AgeLab suggest a two-step action plan to enable drivers to understand and best utilize their vehicle's safety features:
1. Match the top technologies list with your vehicle's owner's manual to understand what equipment it has with and how the features work.
2. If you are choosing a new car or need assistance with your current vehicle, work with a trusted dealer who can explain the benefits and uses of the various technologies available.
In addition, there are three steps that drivers should consider to help ensure their driving capability:
1. Be a healthy driver – get regular physicals and annual eye exams, consider the side effects of medications, and exercise regularly.
2. Keep learning – take a driver safety refresher course for seniors.
3. Adjust to changes in your driving skills – be aware of normal age-related changes and make appropriate adjustments to your driving.
More information on aging and driving is available at www.thehartford.com.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab conducts research on technology, behavior and innovation to improve the quality of life of older adults. More about AgeLab's research is available at http://agelab.mit.edu.