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10 Helpful Safety Features for Mature Drivers

CARS.COM — As safety features advance, they provide mature drivers the opportunity to stay on the road longer — and more safely. To take advantage, though, older drivers have to adopt and adapt to these features.

Several organizations that promote mature driver safety — the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab — have studied vehicle safety technology and found several safety features that are likely to benefit older drivers. The MIT AgeLab and Hartford Center also surveyed 302 drivers from 50 to 69 to find out which features they’d be most likely to adopt.

Related: My Car Does What? Safety Tech Explained

Below are the features these experts believe can be most helpful to mature drivers. The first five, listed in alphabetical order, are the features that older drivers said they’d be most likely to use, according to the Hartford and the MIT AgeLab survey.

Five Safety Features Mature Drivers Would Use

Adaptive/Smart Headlights: These headlights adjust the range and intensity of light based on traffic distance, reduced glare and improved night vision; some pivot as the vehicle turns. It really matters: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety this year started rating the effectiveness of vehicles’ headlights and many came up short. Smart headlights help older drivers compensate for age-related vision changes by giving them a better view of the road.

Backup Cameras: After a driver shifts into Reverse, the view from the backup camera displays on a screen to show what’s behind the car. Many systems also employ an audible alert if something is in the vehicle’s rearward path or is coming from either side. While drivers still must check behind them before backing up, backup cameras help mature drivers who have limited neck and shoulder flexibility. The federal government has mandated that backup cameras must be standard in all new vehicles by model-year 2019.

Blind Spot Monitors: These systems use light-up icons in a car’s side-view mirrors, audible alerts and/or vibrations to warn drivers of objects sitting in their blind spots. Some provide additional warnings if drivers use their turn signal when there’s a car in the target lane, so they can be helpful when changing lanes or while parking. Blind spot monitors can help people with a limited range of motion, a common issue for mature drivers, and they can increase a driver’s situational awareness.

Forward Collision Warning/Mitigation Systems: Sensors in the front of the vehicle warn drivers of slow-moving or stopped cars ahead. When paired with automatic emergency braking — which hits the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond quickly enough — these systems can prevent a crash or lessen the damage if a crash occurs. All the major automakers have voluntarily agreed to make forward collision warning with auto emergency braking standard by model-year 2022; Toyota and Lexus are promising it standard on nearly all their vehicles by model-year 2018. These systems help mature drivers, whose reaction times have slowed, respond in time to prevent crashes. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s LongRoad Study report, Keeping Older Adults Driving Safely, they can reduce potential crashes by up to 20 percent.

Lane Departure Warning/Lane Keeping Assist Systems: Using visual, vibration or audible alerts, lane departure warning lets drivers know when they have drifted out of their lane. Lane keeping assist gently steers the vehicle back to the center of the lane if the driver doesn’t respond to the warning. The AAA study found that when using these systems, older drivers increased their use of turn signals, had fewer lane excursions and experienced less stress. Together these systems have the potential to reduce crashes by up to 30 percent, the report said.

Other Useful Safety Tech for Mature Drivers

In addition to the above features, the LongRoad Study report evaluated several other advanced safety technologies and their usefulness for mature drivers. Below are an additional five, in alphabetical order, that the report found would be useful.

Adaptive Cruise Control: An advanced version of cruise control, it allows drivers to set a speed and following distance, letting the car automatically accelerate and slow down based on the car ahead. ACC systems provide some braking, but most do not brake to a stop and this is something older drivers need to know, experts say. When older drivers are instructed in the proper use of ACC, they report less stress while driving.

Automatic Collision Notification Systems: These systems — think GM’s OnStar or Toyota’s Safety Connect — automatically alert emergency services in the event of a crash. Since frailty increases with age, older drivers are more likely to suffer serious injuries — or die &mdash during a crash; collision notification allows emergency personnel to respond faster, potentially saving lives.

Drowsy Driver Alerts: When a driver is drifting in and out of a lane, these systems use vibrations, sounds or a dashboard symbol to alert the driver that he or she might be drowsy and need to take a break. Such systems help older drivers monitor their attentiveness and encourage them to stop, stretch and refocus.

Navigation Systems: GPS-based maps viewed in a vehicle’s display screen show drivers where they are and allow them to input destinations and get turn-by-turn directions. Since many older drivers report difficulty in finding their way, these nav systems increase feelings of confidence, safety and attentiveness, helping seniors remain focused on the road.

Park Assist Systems: These include rear cross-traffic alerts and semi-autonomous parallel-park assist. Rear cross-traffic can detect and sound an alert when cars and pedestrians are crossing behind you as you’re backing up. Parallel-park assist helps drivers find a suitable parking space, and then it tells them when to shift backward and forward as it steers the vehicle into the space; the driver still applies the gas and brakes. Park assist systems reduce stress and make it easier for older drivers to parallel park and maneuver in parking lots.

Wonder about a safety feature you don’t see here that’s in your car? Check out My Car Does What? This website explains safety technology found in cars.