Senior driver, photo courtesy AAA

Senior driver, photo courtesy AAA.

Reuters columnist Mark Miller writes that older drivers seek technologies that help them change lanes safely and park more easily. He says this was the finding of a survey of older drivers by MIT and the Hartford insurance company.

According to the study, the top five technologies that drivers over the age of 50 prefer, Miller writes, are:

  • Blind spot warning systems
  • Crash warning systems
  • Emergency response assistance systems
  • Drowsy driver alerts, and
  • Reverse monitoring that warns of objects behind a car.

Miller opines that auto safety technology to help keep older drivers safe will become more important in the marketplace, because baby boomers are planning to age in place, staying where they are and driving. That means there will be an increase in older drivers, especially in suburban and rural areas, Miller writes.

Up until now, car makers have not been marketing safety features to older people, he writes:

‘The car remains a symbol of youthfulness, independence and freedom,’ says Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which studies and develops a wide range of age-related technology. ‘If I sell a car pitched as an old man’s car, I can guarantee a younger man or woman won’t buy it — and neither will the older man.’

In fact, Miller writes, Coughlin worries that the industry is not doing enough to educate drivers about new safety technology as it appears. “We’re going to see a re-training of the salesforce so that they can train buyers on this,” he said.

Research and development on average takes three to five years, Coughlin told Miller, thus the pace of change can be slow, and many new safety features appear first on luxury cars, that many people can’t afford, even if they want the features. Miller writes that the MIT/Hartford study founds that only one-third of older drivers surveyed has the top safety technology features in their vehicles. But Coughlin told Miller that many such features will become standard ones before too long, as car makers are adding them to stand out from other brands.

Miller writes that families of older drivers worry about when it is time for their older relatives to stop driving altogether. Jodi Olshevski, chief gerontologist and executive director of The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence, told Miller that she recommends such families have their older relatives’ driving evaluated by an occupational therapist, who can review the person’s medical and driving history, check their vision, and assess their cognitive ability and motor function.

The American Occupational Therapists Association publishes a list of qualified therapists on its site, Miller notes. Older drivers can find tools online to help evaluate their driving skills, such as

Technology may just save the day for older drivers, as Miller writes:

Then again, giving up the keys could become an issue of the past if current sci-fi visions of the future come true. MIT, Google and other research centers are developing robotic, autonomous vehicles that drive themselves, and while that may sound like a far distance from reality, Ford Motor Co and Volvo both already have models that detect when a car drifts out of its lane.

‘The trend is toward technology that gets people out from behind the wheel,’ Coughlin says. ‘We’ll see more and more control and judgment by the vehicle itself.’

In a related article appearing on the U.K. edition of The Huffington Post, Shelley Emling reports that, according to the Daily Mail, more people are driving at older ages than ever. In Britain, there are nearly 200 people who are still driving at age 100 or older, she writes, and the number of people age 70 or older who have drivers licenses numbers more than 4 million for the first time. The oldest licensed driver in the U.K. is a 107-year-old woman, Emling writes, adding that 191 people over the age of 100 in the U.K. still have driver’s licenses.

Emling writes that in the U.S., there were 22.6 million licensed drivers age 70 and older in 2011, representing about 79% of the the population of people in that age group, and about 11% of drivers of all ages. Florida, a state known as a retirement haven, has more than 455 licensed drivers who are age 100 or older, and more than 65,000 between the ages of 91 and 100, she writes. Older drivers appear to have a better safety record nowadays, she notes:

A total of 4,052 people aged 70 or older died in car crashes in 2011 — a 31 percent drop compared with 1997. The rate of fatalities per capita among older people also has decreased by about 45 percent since 1975 and is now at its lowest level.

In Colorado, the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) writes that it wants older drivers “to maintain their driving independence as long as they continue to drive safely and confidently.” Once drivers in the state turn 60 years old, they are expected to renew their license every five years. A vision test is required, and in some cases, a written driving test as well.

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