How New Car Tech Can Keep Older Drivers Safe on the Road and at Home

Christine Tibbetts Avatar

How new car tech can keep older drivers safe.
Elderly couple driving. Photo credit: Stock Unlimited
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Older drivers who want to stay safe on the road can take advantage of a host of new safety and technology designed to make it easy to park, stay in your lane, even find the car in a crowded parking lot. But is it possible that too much tech can be overwhelming? This senior driver weighs in.

How new car tech can keep older drivers safe.
Elderly man with car. Photo credit: Stock Unlimited

Keep Older Drivers Safe

I need a wider safety net. Since road tripping still lights my fire at age 71, can I figure out which new car technology might keep me safer as an older driver?

A bit baffled is the way I’m feeling about the hype for new car tech. That’s why I set out to sort out the options. Step-by-step, not all at once.

My ultimate question: What new car should I buy since mine doesn’t even have a backup camera? Full disclosure: I do have seat belts.

It’s one thing to read about the intriguing new technology. But how many bells and beeps and flashing screens can older drivers process while driving?

New is scary. Change is challenging. It seems to me there’s more to new-car shopping today than color or brand loyalty. Maybe my driving skills need a tech boost.

A host of new car tech can serve as a safety net for older drivers.
Dashboard with newer tech features. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen

Ease Into Safety Tech For Older Drivers

Maybe I can jumpstart my driving-with-tech skills still in my 2012 Toyota Camry. I did conquer answering the phone hands-free from the steering wheel.

Seems there’s an adapter to connect my old car to my smartphone for more protection. Old car for this gadget means 1996 or later models.

The name’s reassuring: Automatic. Sounds good for younger drivers too.

For starters, the hand-size adapter plugs in under the dash to provide 24/7 contact with roadside assistance, crash alerts sent to emergency responders, engine light diagnostics and tracking where I parked.

A host of new car tech can serve as a safety net for older drivers.
Senior driver. Photo credit: Stock Unlimited

First Steps Toward Tech For Older Drivers

The most luxurious luxury cars come with all the new tech. For older adults like me in a modest vehicle, choices must be made. I’ll tell family members my new car will boost my driving ability.

Three tips to precede making any decisions:

  • Watch simple videos and graphic explanations about new tech on the website www.MyCarDoesWhat.org To the point: One video is titled Cars Today.
  • Make a list of the acronyms that stand for each new tech. My head spins if I try to memorize those options or their short-form names. You’ll find a list at the end of this article.
  • Consider how older people might want to be warned—bells, beeps, pulsating touches from the seat or steering wheel. Or flashing screen alerts. Driving safety, and changing driving habits, require awareness of the alerts!

Paying Attention To How New Stuff Affects Driving

Older adults are supposed to keep their brains active with puzzles and scintillating conversations. If all these tech tools fix road trip problems before older people notice them, will we lose the ability to pay attention?

Will car tech affect age-related driving skills? Help us avoid the stop driving mantra?

This is the kind of thought I have to overcome: Automatic emergency braking will slow the car before I react with the foot pedals. Maybe I’ll be lulled into not bothering.

Older drivers can count on rear view cameras, now mandatory in new cars.
Doubt if the driveway is really purple, but the tip to curve slightly while backing is a rear view camera benefit. Photo courtesy Allen Tibbetts.

What’s First Considering Car Tech For Older Drivers?

Back-up cameras are old hat. They became standard equipment in 2018.  But, I know some older adults who prefer looking over their shoulder to see what’s back there.

They probably remember power steering as a new-fangled feature too!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Simple titles for tech in our cars can also carry less-clear titles like RVS, Rearview Video System, instead of backup camera.

Older drivers find reassurance pinpointing directions with new car tech.
Pointing out the way to go with good car tech visuals adds confidence to road trips. Photo courtesy Allen Tibbetts.

What’s Second Considering Traffic Safety Car Tech For Older Drivers?

Figure out what grabs attention. This can be age-related. New car tech declares its observations in a bunch of ways. Not every one is pleasing to each age group.

I struggle with images on screens, especially with lots of them. Plus, it bothers me to look away from the road.

That’s why I want alerts in my windshield, just below the field of vision watching the road. Passengers don’t see that, just drivers. That’s called Heads Up Display, or HUD.

Beeps and bells and buzzers just might get my attention faster than screen views, so car shopping now has to include tech sounds. Can the tech speak to me instead of wait for my eyes to scroll around?

I like touch. Some car tech uses little motors to vibrate discretely. Jiggles under my left thigh declare, “Oops. You’re veering out of your lane into the left.”

Steering wheel jiggles can give alerts too.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Ask the salesperson for haptic tech messages to receive tech alerts. That’s my new vocabulary word for touch, not sound.

Road tripping with friends and family older than I am calls for considering their comforts and anxieties. If my new car tech sets off lots of bells and buzzers, my passengers are likely to get jittery.

That’s another reason I’m looking for the silent jiggle warnings.

Can Older Drivers Cherry Pick New Car Tech?

Arming myself with knowledge about which new car tech warning signs will keep me safest—and not overwhelmed—is one step.

Buying those, and only those, is likely to be more difficult.

Seems like trim packages or audio entertainment packages or features around for years have always forced buying more of some and less of what we thought we wanted. So be armed with tech preferences, as well as your driver’s license.

Ratings in Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (iihs.org) offer some information. The National Safety Council (nsc.org), which partners with the University of Iowa, gives clarity describing tech features. They’re the folks behind the MyCarDoesWhat website.

Driving safely is their mission, and older driver safety with boosts for reaction time ranks high on their icon design and explanation websites.

Older drivers using new car tech appreciate clear category titles.
Automakers and family members highly recommend older drivers learning new car tech study the screens in advance of heading on the road. Photo courtesy Allen Tibbetts.

Breaking Down The Technology For Older Drivers

Adaptive Cruise Control

Imagine this! Road trips generally mean highway driving. Having my car realize the car in front is reducing speed, even just a little, provides comfort.

Pretty sure my reaction time would surface, but not as fast as this tech partner.

OK with me to speed up again in a moderate way, but for certain that won’t be quick enough for some drivers. Age groups interpret safe driving differently.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Car safety tech is good for a marriage. My husband complains when I slow down because of tail lights two cars ahead. With this feature he can blame the car and not me!

Forward-Collision Warning

If something’s directly in my path, this tech beeps or gives a visual prompt. Sometimes that haptic, or tactile, alert is possible. IIHS requires Forward Collision Warning (FCW) for top safety ratings.

Some senior drivers say their FCW noticed highway traffic slowing before they did. Skeptical users complain about false alerts. Either way, the driver has to hit the brakes to stop the car.

Older drivers might need whimsical yard art to express attitudes about new car tech.
Throw up your arms in frustration or rejoice about new car tech. Which does this whimsical yard art say to you? Photo courtesy Allen Tibbetts

Automatic Emergency Braking

I’m wondering about the force of automatic braking. Sudden jolts are jarring to older drivers.

Low speed and high speed versions exist. Some users say their car slowed before they moved their foot toward the brake.

The oldest of older drivers remember road trips when kids weren’t harnessed in safety seats. Sudden braking? We reached to catch their fall.

Blind-Spot Warning

Side mirror alerts win rave reviews with all age groups. Audible and tactile warnings are possible with BSW. I am thrilled to eliminate over-the-shoulder quick glances fearing a vehicle in places I cannot see.

The flashing alerts in side mirrors even comfort me road tripping as a passenger. My driver likely is more aware because of these camera-driven tech lights, and so are the drivers in the other lanes.

Lane Departure Warning

Jiggle my thigh, please, if I ever drift left or right. I’d prefer that to a beep. This tech has a partner called LKA.

Lane-Keeping Assist

This moves the steering wheel and applies the brakes if I veer into another lane but does not activate when I use my turn signal.

How cool is this if it shapes new habits in drivers who don’t bother with turn signals. Safe driving and driving skills are not age group specific.

Rear Cross-Traffic Warning

RCTW – rear cross-traffic warnings — address something out of back-up camera range, but approaching. That sounds valuable for an audible warning with visual and tactile alerts too.

Older drivers seeking new tech need to cast their eyes right to see maps and prompts in most cars.
Safety information in the new tech world of driving calls for looking right of the steering wheel sometimes. Photo courtesy Allen Tibbetts

Good Grief! So Many Acronyms To Enhance Driving Skills

  • FCW Forward-collision warning
  • DBS Dynamic Brake Support
  • NVA Night Vision Assist
  • AEB Automatic emergency braking
  • RVS Rearview Video System (or backup camera)
  • ACC Adaptive cruise control
  • BSW Blind spot warning
  • ACN Automatic Crash Notification
  • LDW Lane-departure warning
  • HUD Heads Up Display
  • PAEB Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking
  • LKA Lane-keeping assist
  • RCTW Rear cross-traffic warning
  • AL Adaptive Lighting

National Organizations Research Driving Safety, Motor Vehicle Crashes, New Tech

Embracing the notion that safe driving can benefit from new car tech, older drivers might just go shopping. Perhaps this is not the time to hand over the car keys.

Research to reassure decision-making is readily available from national organizations. They all respect data. Here’s a snapshot of what each does.

The Federal Highway Administration: Studies define older drivers as age 65 and up. Roads are their specialty, both urban and rural, with a goal of keeping them safer.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends these top four driver assistance technologies: forward-collision warning, lane departure warning, rearview video system and automatic emergency braking. Succinct descriptions of many new technologies available on their website.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety studies the impact of vehicle technology. Driver behavior, vulnerable road users and roadway systems and drivers as well as emerging tech fuels their mission.

Older drivers look to AARP, too, for data and advice. Reducing crash rates and fatal crashes matters.


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