For many older adults driving is the key to their independence. They hold fast to the ability to navigate to doctor's appointments, run errands or make plans with friends without having to rely on others.
But even the most typical signs of aging can make driving more challenging. It could be hip and knee pain making it difficult to get in and out of the car or arthritis making it uncomfortable to grip the steering wheel.
But with today's rapidly advancing technology, smart features are making it not only safer for older adults to continue driving, but more comfortable as well.
More dynamic technologies, such as Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) technology, are being tested by the U.S. Department of Transportation and car manufacturers. The technology utilizes Wi-Fi signals to send messages to your car about approaching vehicles. For example, a blinking light in the side view mirror could warn of a car in a driver's blind spot when the turn signal is engaged, or an LED warning light might flash at the bottom of the windshield when an approaching vehicle isn't slowing and may miss an upcoming stop.
Before that technology makes it to your car, José Alberto Uclés from the Office of Communications and Consumer Information at the Department of Transportation says the best safety features continue to be wearing a seatbelt while driving without distraction.
In the meantime, here are some additional features available today to consider adding to your vehicle or to ask about when shopping for your next car:
Knee, hip or leg pain
Six-way adjustable seats. Consider a vehicle with seats that adjust with power controls. While standard in most new cars, it is worth checking for them on the driver and passenger seats. Moving the seat forward and back, up and down and the backrest forward and back at the touch of a button makes adjustments easier. Power controls put less strain on the body and proper adjustments make driver and passenger more comfortable. Many car manufacturers now allow programmable settings so once you find a position that is safe and comfortable the car can memorize it. This is especially helpful for those sharing a car with another driver. It eliminates the need to adjust the setting every time you get in your car.
Adjustable foot pedals. Some cars have foot pedals that raise and lower as well as move forward and back with the touch of a button. This can be helpful in adjusting to the driver's height, but also helps put the driving leg in a comfortable position.
Limited range of upper body motion
Rear backup camera. Becoming more and more popular on new cars, a rear camera can provide a display showing what's behind the vehicle. Sometimes the video display shows right on the rearview mirror and in some cars it is shown on a dashboard screen. Either way it often gives a more extensive view than mirrors alone. It also prevents a driver from having to twist and turn to look over their shoulder.
Parallel parking assistance. Depending on a car's capabilities it can help you park or even do it for you. Some systems provide helpful information on a dashboard screen suggesting how to turn the wheel and how much space is available in relation to the car and the available parking spot. More dynamic systems allow a driver to set a self-parking feature and the car will maneuver and park itself. Both features require less twisting and movement from the driver and can even eliminate some anxiety in traffic and tight parking situations.
Automatic tailgate. Available for standard trunks or tailgate lifts for vans and SUVs, the trunk can be opened and closed with the touch of a button either inside the vehicle or on a keychain feature. This eliminates the need for reaching, pushing and pulling.
Lane departure warning. A camera system tracks the vehicle in relation to lane markers and can provide a warning when not positioned well in the lane.
Frontal Pedestrian Impact Mitigation Braking and Forward Collision Avoidance and Mitigation. The car alerts the driver of a potential impact, and if the driver doesn't respond, the technology applies the brakes to avoid or lessen the impact. This smart feature can be instrumental in eliminating accidents when a response time is not quick enough to apply the brakes in time.
Auto dimming rearview mirrors. These smart mirrors do all the adjusting for you so you can keep your hands on the wheel. The auto-dimming feature detects light and automatically adjusts the tint of the mirror.
High contrast instrument panels. A high contrast instrument panel offers a more vivid display of icons and gauges in the car. It makes it easier to see during bright and high glare times of the day as well as when driving at night.
Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and AAA provide resources to help older adults adjust their vehicle for optimal safety and added independence.
For an illustrated tour of car safety features visit: safercar.gov/staticfiles/safetytech/st_landing_ca.htm
To explore Smart Features for Older Drivers visit: seniordriving.aaa.com/smartfeatures
—Jody Paige for Primetime