As the baby boomers enter the retirement years, we can expect to see lots of senior drivers on our highways and byways. An aging driver population brings risks to us all including slow reaction times and less acute eyesight. With more senior citizens driving the roads, safe practices and smarter cars can benefit us all.
It's no surprise that age-related issues can impact driving safety. According to AAA, 90 percent of drivers age 65 or older experience health issues ranging from arthritis to diminished vision, which can affect their safety behind the wheel. Throw in our typical congested traffic, unexpected roadwork, confusing detours, and bad weather conditions, and the challenges can become even more acute.
The good news is that advances in technology and the evolution of smart features in cars can help to make driving safer and more comfortable. We all have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to our driving skills, and our individual health issues can vary broadly. But there are areas where improvements and advances in cars can apply to many senior drivers.
Seats that allow for multi-position adjustments can best situate the driver at the right height and correct distance from the pedals while providing a comfortable position for extended periods of time. Forget about sexy-looking sport seats when it comes to finding the best support and comfort possible. But definitely consider the individual seat warmers generally available in newer models. When you are sitting in a cold car to start your day, a little warmth from behind can go a long way to thaw you out.
For those suffering from arthritis, little things can make a difference. Bigger knobs and buttons are easier to manage, and a thicker steering wheel does not require you to close your hands quite so tightly to safely navigate. The same applies to the shifter, because bigger knobs are easier to use.
Since our eyes will tend to weaken with age, well-lit dials and easy-to-see controls on the dashboard are useful. Lighting can come in a variety of colors, so look for the one that works best for you. Visibility is a big concern no matter what your age. It's a good idea to select larger windows that allow for unimpeded viewing in all directions. And tinted windows, while adding a bit of mystery for those looking in, also makes it more difficult to see, especially when driving at night.
There are a lot of other useful features for older drivers such as a small screen on the dash that allows you to see what is behind you as you back up. You might also be able to get a vehicle with warning alarms that beep when something is in your path and beep faster as you get closer. Automatic door openers and car starters are easier than a key you need to insert and turn.
However, try to avoid overdoing it on the special features. A dashboard cluttered with too much information can be as distracting as texting while you drive. You want your attention on the road and the cars around you, not a myriad of bright dashboard goodies.
Technology has stepped up once again to make our lives easier, but it can only go so far. These improvements may help extend the driving career of some senior citizens, but it is important to remain as objective as possible when evaluating your true ability to drive. No one but you knows if you are truly capable of driving safely. If the time should come that you know in your heart it is not safe for you to drive, it is important to do the right thing.
Dave Bernard is the author of Are You Just Existing and Calling it a Life?, which offers guidelines to discover your personal passion and live a life of purpose. Not yet retired, Dave has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only the Beginning.