Newer cars have many new features that make driving and parking easier for people of all ages. Staying up-to-date on some of these changes to vehicles can keep you safe on the road, limit the amount you have to spend on car repairs in the event of an accident, and in some cases offer cheaper auto insurance.
While safe driving features are for everyone, certain features designed to reduce reaction time, limit the amount of twisting and turning you have to do while driving, and compensate for situations with limited visibility, some of these features can be particularly valuable for older adults . Some of these features must be purchased as part of the car systems they come with, but most of them can be added into an existing car as a separate unit. Here is our list of the top ten car features most relevant and useful for older adults:
Adaptive cruise control works like a normal cruise control system—allowing you to set the car to a certain speed and keep it at that speed without continuously applying gas—except that it also scans ahead and attempts to maintain a certain distance from cars in front of you. This doesn’t mean you can fall asleep at the wheel, since the system isn’t perfect and you can still have an impact if you don’t react. However, it does reduce the need to continuously brake as you’re driving on roads like the highway and it can help you with reaction time if there is an oncoming collision.
Rear view cameras can make parking much easier, and new laws are coming out now mandating parking aids in most new vehicles because they are so effective. In addition to making collisions while parking less likely, rear view cameras can also make it easier on people who have trouble with upper body mobility or neck pain, as you don’t have to turn your body around to see where you're parking with a rear view camera. They can be purchased and added into many older cars.
Blind spot sensors or monitoring systems help avoid accidents by alerting the driver if there is an object in the blind spot. Some come with a camera so you can see the vehicle and have extra time to react. While most older cars don’t have this feature, you can buy them as separate units to add to your car. Blind spot sensors can also limit the amount you have to twist your neck and upper body around if you have issues with mobility in those areas.
Lane departure warning flashes a light and/or an audio alarm when the car is drifting out of its lane. It uses a camera to check that the wheels are going within the lines and if the car starts to drift out, it gets activated. Lane departure warning will not take control of the vehicle, but it can still prevent accidents by alerting the driver if they don't realize they’re drifting.
Automatic braking systems activate your car’s brakes when the car is about to hit something from the front or back. This may not prevent all accidents, but it can reduce the damage because the brakes are engaged sooner, limiting the force of the impact. These systems work especially well at slightly slower speeds, for example, at 30mph the automatic braking system could reduce the impact of a crash by 50%.
While older cars and some newer ones don’t come with automatic braking systems, collision warning systems can be purchased to add onto any car. These are systems that flash a light and/or audio signal if it appears a collision is about to take place, potentially giving the driver more time to react. Unlike automatic braking systems, it won’t take over your car and help slow it down, but it will alert you to potential collisions sooner.
Adaptive headlamps automatically adjust to different driving conditions. They may adjust brightness depending on weather like rain or fog, they may turn high beams on and off in response to oncoming traffic, and they often come with curve-adaptive features built in as well. A curve-adaptive headlight will rotate the bulbs of the light toward the road, continuing to focus on the road even as the road changes. This creates far more visibility, even in difficult driving conditions like night driving or rain.
Most cars today come with a navigation system, and they can be added into older cars as well as separate units. There are many types of navigation systems on the market, but all of them can help with safety by assisting with figuring out where to go with the built-in map systems, creating a single-stop station for music and controls, and adding in alerts such as speed limits and traffic stops up ahead.
Heated steering wheels and seats can add comfort to your ride, but they can also be great for safety as well. In colder climates, reaction time can be reduced by cold hands, and for people with arthritis, driving with a cold steering wheel can be painful. Heated seats can help with back pain and upper body mobility as well.
Push button car starters starters use a key fob and a power button inside the car instead of the traditional metal key in a lock system for starting the car. They are more convenient to use, and for people with conditions like arthritis they can be much gentler on the hands. However, there is some risk of accidentally leaving the car running when you leave the car, since it’s possible to have it running with the fob in your pocket as you walk away. This can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, so getting a car that will automatically turn off after the fob is a certain distance away and then making sure you keep it in such a place in your house can help.