Study: In-vehicle tech can keep older drivers behind wheel safely, longer

WASHINGTON — A new study shows smart car technology can keep older drivers safely behind the wheel, for a longer period of time.

Currently a record 36 million adults age 65 and older drive in the United States, and the number is expected to increase substantially over the next decade, according to the AAA.

“Permanently giving up the keys can have severe consequences for the health and mental well-being of older adults,” says Peter Kissinger, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s president and CEO.

Recent AAA research has found seniors who give up driving are almost twice as likely to experience depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility.

In the study, AAA and the Unversity of Michigan Transportation Research Institute examined 16 vehicle technologies, and determined six can help older drivers potentially reduce crashes and make the driving experience less stressful.

  • Forward collision warning /mitigation: Systems can warn drivers of potential crashes, and automatically apply the brakes. According to the study, this technology can improve reaction times and reduce crashes by up to 20 percent.
  • Automatic crash notification: Systems automatically alert emergency responders in the event of a crash. According to AAA,  older drivers are more likely to suffer from the serious effects of a crash because of their age.
  • Park assist with rear-view display: The technology includes backup cameras and obstacle-detection warning systems, which can help prevent crashes when pulling out of a parking space. According to the study, 95 percent of seniors want these systems in their next vehicle, while 55 percent reported that it can help reduce driver stress.
  • Parking assist with cross-traffic warning:  Systems use radar sensor technology to notify drivers of crossing vehicles when backing out of a parking space, and on some vehicles, the systems automatically can apply the brakes to prevent a crash.
  • Semi-autonomous parking assistance: These smart systems can take over steering while the car moves into a parallel parking space.
  • Navigation assistance: According to AAA, turn-by-turn GPS navigation systems can provide older drivers with increased feelings of safety, confidence, attentiveness and relaxation.

Locally, drivers over 65 represent 16 percent of license drivers in Virginia, 16.7 of drivers in Maryland, and 14 percent in the District of Columbia.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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