For most of us, there is a sense of independence that comes with our ability to drive ourselves from one place to the next. Teens get a feeling of euphoria and freedom when they obtain their driver's licenses and finally achieve the mobility that comes with being behind the wheel. Conversely, if you're a senior, it can be incredibly discouraging if health problems have forced you to limit or entirely curtail your driving.
Newly emerging self-driving car technology can be of value in this area. These advancements may be able to help seniors drive more safely and with greater confidence. Today’s self-driving technologies offer everything from simple assistive features to fully autonomous solutions for some of the major pain points of the driving experience.
Spreading AwarenessChallenges exist when it comes to public awareness and acceptance of car safety technology. A recent study conducted by CARFAX—a company that provides vehicle history reports and other key information regarding used cars—indicated that although 82 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of car safety technology, most didn't consider these features must-haves when buying a car.
Those who are 55 and over tend to be late adopters when it comes to technology. But in the case of car tech, the CARFAX study reported that older car buyers tend to be more trusting of the newest automotive safety technology than their younger peers. In the survey, six out of 10 respondents 55 and older stated that they fully trust car safety technology. Among millennials, only four out 10 respondents expressed the same confidence.
Automotive safety technology can add convenience and lead to fewer accidents behind the wheel, and it deserves wider acceptance.
Below is a lineup of car technology that can help seniors navigate the road more safely.
Driver-assistive technologiesCertain features can assist senior drivers in significant ways, even though they don't offer fully autonomous functionality.
Failing vision may make it more difficult for an older driver to spot obstacles. Backup cameras—one of the most popular and trusted technologies—can assist seniors in safely reversing by providing a clear image of what’s behind them. When it comes to approaching vehicle when changing lanes, a blind-spot monitor can help. This system issues a warning if you attempt to change lanes while there's a vehicle in your blind spot.
For some older drivers, slower reflexes are a problem, and this can create a dangerous situation if an object suddenly appears in their path while driving. Forward collision mitigation with autonomous braking can be lifesaver in these instances. This feature is able to detect obstacles in a vehicle’s path, and automatically activates the brakes if the driver doesn't respond in time.
Meanwhile, cruise control can be a godsend when it comes to highway driving, helping drivers automatically maintain a consistent speed. Adaptive cruise control takes things a step further by automatically maintaining a safe distance between your car and the vehicle immediately ahead of you when you're cruising down the freeway.
Self-parking carsSome seniors have a hard time with parking, and it's easy to understand why. Arthritis is a condition that's common in older adults, and it's the No. 1 cause of disability in the U.S. According to information published by the Arthritis Foundation, almost half of adults 65 or older have this condition. Arthritis can cause joint stiffness, and can severely limit mobility.
Safe parking requires a fair amount of dexterity, since you have to twist your neck and maneuver your shoulders to get a view of the surrounding area as you slide into your parking spot. This can create a great deal of stress and pain for arthritic seniors.
Self-parking cars represent a handy solution. These cars can handle even the most nerve-wracking parallel-parking maneuver with calm efficiency.
Cars with these tech features are widely available. They're currently offered by manufacturers such as Volvo, Chevrolet and Chrysler, and you can also get self-driving functionality with a Toyota Prius.
Self-driving carsSelf-driving cars used to exist only in the realm of science fiction, but the future has undoubtedly arrived. Today, some automakers offer cars that completely handle the task of driving in certain circumstances. Many of these models use sophisticated sensors that bounce laser beams off of objects in the vicinity to create precise 3-D maps of the surrounding area.
Plus, the latest Audi A8 offers a feature called the Traffic Jam Pilot. This feature is capable of autonomously handling all functions regarding steering, throttle and braking at speeds of up to 37 mph on freeways and highways.
And Tesla's electric vehicles are available with an autopilot function that will take over the wheel. Tesla uses eight surround cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors to achieve this feat. The company boasts that this technology is able to see through pouring rain and heavy fog, and can even identify obstacles that are ahead of the vehicle in front of you.
Numerous carmakers are developing this type of technology. In the months and years ahead, it's expected that car buyers interested in self-driving technology will have a growing array of choices to consider. In the meantime, seniors can prolong and enjoy their freedom behind the wheel with the safety technologies already available.
Warren Clarke is a consumer advocate and automotive writer for CARFAX, an online resource for used car buying. He enjoys following the latest car technology and sharing tips to help drivers of all ages.