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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Elderly Drivers Can Benefit From New Vehicle Features

AAA Highlights 30 Important New Features Useful To Aging Drivers

Reaction time–our ability to see something, recognize it and take action—can slow remarkably after age 50. Muscle strength and range of motion decrease by as much as 25 percent by age 60, making it more difficult to perform simple tasks, like turning your head to look over you shoulder. Many are afflicted with arthritic joints by age 70, making movement painful.

To help older drivers in choosing their next vehicle, The Automobile Club of America, in conjunction with the National Older Driver Research and Training, singled out some 30 features on newer cars that might be particularly useful to aging drivers.

Among the features are:

Active head restraints: If the car is hit from behind, this restraint moves forward to cushion the head, helping reduce neck injuries.

Adjustable pedals: By pushing a button, the driver can adjust the accelerator and brake pedals. This feature is especially helpful for small drivers to reach the pedals while keeping them a safe distance (about 12 inches) from the airbag mounted in the hub of the steering wheel.

Power operated seats: To adjust, these require less strength. The seats should offer six-way adjustment at a minimum: forward and backward, up and down, and seatback forward and backward.

Large knobs and buttons: Audio and climate controls with large features are both easier to see and less distracting.

Large/wide-angle mirrors: These are especially helpful to those, when changing lanes or backing up, have difficulty turning or twisting to look to the rear.

Moderate step-in height: It requires extra strength and flexibility to get into and out of a snazzy low-slung sports car. Similarly, a large SUV requires extra effort to climb up into a seat.

Four doors: Entry and exit are easier in four-door models, especially if the car has a rear seat. Two-door cars usually have longer, heavier doors, needing more strength to open and close.

Keyless entry: This feature, operated by a push-button on the key fob, is good for those with arthritic hands who find it painful to twist a key.

Keyless ignition: By employing a dash-mounted push-button instead of a traditional key, keyless ignition is helpful to those with stiff or painful fingers.

Tilt/telescoping steering wheel: The extra adjustments help the driver find a comfortable position that alleviates knee, back, hip, neck or shoulder pain, as well as maintaining a safe distance from the front airbag.

Brake assist: This helps the driver generate enough force during emergency braking to stop the car in time to prevent a collision.

Low trunk height: as well as A wide opening and lower access make it easier to load and unload heavy packages.

Anti-lock brakes: ABS helps the driver retain steering control and eliminating the need to “pump” the brakes by preventing the wheels from locking during hard braking, an action that might be challenging for some older drivers.

Side/side-curtain airbags: The torso, pelvis and head are protected by side airbags. Older, frail adults, who are more prone to death or injury in crashes than younger people, might really benefit from additional airbags.

Dual-stage/dual-threshold airbags: The force of airbag inflation varies and depends on driver/passenger weight, distance from airbags and crash severity. This is particularly helpful for frail adults who may be injured by airbags that deploy too hard.

Stability-control: Especially on slippery roads, this feature helps prevent loss of control in a turn. It's significantly beneficial to older drivers with slowed reaction times, because it makes automatic quick corrections to keep the car on course.

When buying a new car, it's important to be familiar with the features that are available to assist those with physical limitations, at whatever age. It can make for a more enjoyable ride over the long term.

The National Safety Commission recommends The Driver Education Handbook for Parents as a valuable teaching tool for parents who are concerned with their teen's driving safety and understand the value of quality instruction.

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