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Age-appropriate cars?

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Tampa, Fla.,  Older drivers have the highest death rate compared to other drivers largely due to their inability to survive a crash, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 

As "Older Driver Safety Awareness Week" begins today, AAA is spreading awareness that the survival rate for seniors in car crashes rests with the type of vehicle they drive.

Nearly 90 percent of motorists 65 and older suffer from health issues that affect driving safety. A new AAA survey reveals that only one in 10 senior drivers, with aging health issues, drive a vehicle that adapts to conditions like lack of flexibility or muscle strength, while maintaining safety and comfort. 

To better equip mature drivers for driving safety and comfort, AAA has updated its Smart Features for Older Drivers resource to address a broader range of health conditions. The program also includes new data on 2012 vehicle features. 

As a leading advocate for senior driver safety, AAA launched Smart Features for Older Drivers in partnership with the University of Florida's Institute for Mobility, Activity and Participation in 2008. In the update, Smart Features identifies vehicles that optimize older driver safety and comfort, and an interactive online tool that allows users to explore their individual needs.

"More than 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day and families will be coping with these age-related driving safety issues for years to come," said Michele Harris, Director, AAA Traffic Safety Culture. "AAA has senior driver safety solutions available to help evaluate driving ability, improve driving skills, help families understand the effects of aging, and maintain mobility and independence.

Smart Features addresses a wide variety of conditions that are commonly experienced with aging including: diminished vision, arthritic joints, hip and leg pain and limited upper-body range of motion. "As a person ages, muscle strength, range of motion and vision tend to diminish and can affect driving ability," said Dr. Sherrilene Classen, Director, Institute for Mobility, Activity and Participation at the University of Florida. "Not only do these conditions affect a driver's comfort, their presence can also reduce the ability to safely execute the complex task of driving."

Because everyone ages differently, AAA recommends older drivers look for vehicles that address their specific needs and medical conditions. Some of the recommendations included in Smart Features for Older Drivers include:

  • Drivers suffering from hip or leg pain, decreased leg strength or limited knee range of motion should look for vehicles with six-way adjustable power seats and seat heights that come between the driver's mid-thigh and lower buttocks. These features can make it easier for drivers to enter and exit a vehicle.
  • Drivers with arthritic hands, painful or stiff fingers or diminished fine motor skills benefit from four-door models, thick steering wheels, keyless entry and ignition, power mirrors and seats and larger dashboard controls with buttons. These features reduce the amount of grip strength needed and reduce pain associated with turning or twisting motions.
  • Drivers with diminished vision or problems with high-low contrast will find vehicles with auto-dimming mirrors, large audio and climate controls and displays with contrasting text helpful. These features can reduce blinding glare and make controls and displays easier to see.

The new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research found significant gains in overall motorists' safety in the past decade. Crashes per mile driven, decreased for drivers of all ages between 1995 and 2010 by 28 percent. However, the biggest decreases were found in drivers ages 75-79, down 42 percent; and drivers ages 80-84, down 40 percent.

AAA is highlighting these new materials in support of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, December 3–7, 2012.  AOTA's Older Driver Safety Awareness Week aims to promote understanding of the importance of mobility and transportation to ensure older adults remain active in the community—shopping, working or volunteering—with the confidence that transportation will not be the barrier leaving them stranded at home. You can learn more about the AOTA here.

For more information on which vehicles are the right fit for you and to access all the senior driver safety resources AAA offers to senior drivers, visit SeniorDriving.AAA.com. Just a few other resources you will find on this all-new site include: 

  1. AAA Roadwise Review – A computer-based screening tool that allows drivers to measure changes in their functional abilities scientifically linked to crash risks and
  2. DriveSharp – A brain training fitness program clinically proven to make people safer drivers.
  3. Roadwise Rx – An online tool that generates personalized feedback on how medications, herbal supplements and foods, and their interactions with each other, can impact safety behind the wheel. The confidential results can then be shared with a doctor or pharmacist to learn how to mitigate possible crash risks.
  4. CarFit -Designed to improve the "fit" between mature drivers and their automobiles, this 20-minute program features trained technicians and/or health professionals who can recommend vehicle adjustments to ensure maximum comfort and safety.
  5. AAA Senior Defensive Driver Courses – Available online and in most Florida AAA offices, these classes help mature drivers learn how to reduce risk behind the wheel. They address changes caused by aging and the actions necessary to stay safe. Automobile insurance discounts may apply upon completion. Online courses may be taken by visiting SeniorDriving.AAA.com.

The Auto Club Group (ACG) is the second largest AAA club in North America.  ACG and its affiliates provide membership, travel, insurance and financial services offerings to approximately 8.8 million members across 11 states and two U.S. territories including Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; most of Illinois and Minnesota; and a portion of Indiana.  ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with nearly 53 million members in the United States and Canada and whose mission includes protecting and advancing freedom of mobility and improving traffic safety.