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Technology

High Tech Helps Aging Drivers

Need a little extra help driving? These high-tech features can keep you safe as you get older.

Flying cars are still in the Jetsons' garage and the self-driving car is still down the road, but automobile technology has zoomed into the fastlane in recent years. Many high-tech features aren’t just nifty, they can also help keep aging drivers safe and perhaps on the road longer.

In fact, 76% of drivers age 50 and older who plan to buy a new car in the next two years say they will actively seek out high-tech safety features, according to a recent survey by The Hartford and MIT AgeLab. “Driving keeps us connected,” says gerontologist Jodi Olshevski, the executive director of The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence.

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But getting older affects driving. Limited mobility makes it harder to turn your head to see what’s behind your car. Vision problems can make it challenging to drive at night. “We know that backing up and changing lanes can be a problem” for aging drivers, says Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Whatever your driving challenges, odds are there is a system that can help.

Tops on the list of high-tech features to consider when buying a new car are blind spot and lane departure warning systems. The former notify you if something is in one of your car’s blind spots. Veer out of your lane and the latter will alert you—some systems even help steer your car back on track. Both help people who have a hard time turning to look behind them.

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A forward collision warning system can prevent rear-ending a car ahead of you. “It senses when you are approaching a car, and it calculates the rate at which you’re approaching,” says Mike Quincy, automotive specialist for Consumer Reports. An alert will go off, he says, and “the best systems put the brakes on for you.”

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These kinds of systems can significantly improve safety. “Forward collision with braking assist reduced rear-end crashes by 39%,” says Cicchino.

If parking is a problem, look for models with assisted parking systems. But getting out of a spot can be troublesome, too. “Lack of head movement can affect backing up,” says Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA New York. Cameras can help. Backup cameras, which let you see what’s behind you, must be standard on all new cars by May 2018, says Cicchino.

Another onboard helper, “rear cross traffic alert,” comes to your aid when, say, you’re backing out of a space in a busy shopping center parking lot. Radar technology alerts you if there is anything in your path.

High-tech safety systems are no longer limited to luxury models, says Quincy, but they are now available on Chevrolets, Kias and Hondas, for example. In some cases, you may have to buy a more expensive trim model or an add-on package, which might mean springing for leather seats even if you don’t want them. Tech packages with rear cross traffic alert, for instance, range from $600 to more than $9,000, according to AAA.

Do Your Homework

The “Find the Right Vehicle for You” tool lets you choose from a menu of aging issues, such as limited knee range of motion or arthritic hands, to learn what car features can help. Check the features you’re interested in, select “View Vehicles,” and you’ll get a list of makes and models plus the manufacturer’s suggested retail prices.

Exactly how these tech features work varies by manufacturer. After narrowing your model choices, test the cars and specific features thoroughly. “See if the car integrates with you,” Sinclair says.

Consider the type of alerts. You may prefer visual cues over audible ones. Some lane departure systems may vibrate the seat if you start drifting.

“Before you drive off the lot, have the dealer go over how each function works,” Olshevski says. The Hartford’s Safe Driving for a Lifetime guide includes a checklist you can take with you.

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