Advanced automotive technologies and safe driving habits can help older motorists in the Carolinas remain behind the wheel longer into their lives, according to two new studies by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
These findings are important because there are nearly 780,000 North Carolinians and over 410,000 South Carolinians ages 65 and older who are licensed drivers. These numbers are expected to increase substantially over the next decade. Recent Foundation research has found that seniors who give up driving are almost two times more likely to experience depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility.
“We've seen that giving up the keys permanently can have serious consequences to the physical and mental health of older adults,” said Dave E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “We need to stress the importance of learning new technologies, while practicing safe driving behaviors to help seniors remain behind the wheel.”
The researchers examined 16 advanced vehicle technologies and determined that six of these can provide high value for older adults by potentially reducing crashes and improving the ease and comfort of driving:
Forward collision warning / mitigation: These systems can help prevent crashes by warning drivers of a potential collision or by automatically applying the brakes. For older drivers, this technology can improve reaction times and reduce crashes by up to 20 percent.
Automatic crash notification: These systems automatically alert emergency services in the event of a crash. Older drivers are more likely to suffer from the serious effects of a crash because of their age, which means these systems can provide a greater safety benefit to seniors.
Park assist with rearview display: This technology includes backup cameras and obstacle-detection warning systems, which can help prevent crashes when pulling out of a parking space. About 95 percent of seniors want these systems in their next vehicle, while 55 percent reported that it can help reduce driver stress and workload.
Parking assist with cross-traffic warning: These systems utilize radar sensor technology to notify drivers of crossing vehicles when backing out of a parking space, and on some vehicles, the systems automatically can apply the brakes to prevent a collision.
Semi-autonomous parking assistance: These systems take over steering while moving into a parallel parking space, which can reduce stress and make parking easier for older drivers.
Navigation assistance: Turn-by-turn GPS navigation systems can provide older drivers with increased feelings of safety, confidence, attentiveness and relaxation, which can help seniors remain focused on the road and comfortable behind the wheel.
“Older adults who are shopping for a new vehicle might want to consider buying a car with advanced safety technologies,” said Tiffany Wright, president of AAA Carolinas Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Stocking a new car with the appropriate features can help seniors stay confident behind the wheel, which can hopefully reduce their chances of being in a crash.”
Seniors also can extend their driving years by adopting strategies that reduce their risk on the road. The research finds that many seniors can improve their safety by avoiding challenging situations, such as driving at night, in bad weather, during rush-hour traffic, in unfamiliar areas or on the highway. In addition, seniors who successfully continue to drive are less likely to engage in potentially distracting behaviors, such as talking on a cell phone, texting, eating, smoking or grooming in the car. Many older drivers also are less likely to speed or frequently change lanes, which can further reduce crash risks.
In order to further help seniors chose the right vehicle, AAA has updated its Smart Features for Older Drivers tool to include 2015 makes and models. This resource can help seniors identify vehicles with features that optimize their comfort and safety. AAA provides comprehensive information on senior driving at SeniorDriving.AAA.com.
Driving is a skill that can and should be continually improved. AAA's RoadWise online or RoadWise Driver classroom courses can help seniors get the most out of their vehicle, while reducing risk to them, their passengers and others on the road. A comprehensive driving improvement course can help older drivers learn the most up-to-date driving techniques and understand the latest vehicle technologies.
AAA Carolinas, an affiliate of the American Automobile Association, is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 1.9 million members and the public with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.