About 90% of drivers over the age of 65 have health problems that could affect their ability to drive. In Florida, 17% of drivers, about 3.2 million people, are drivers over 65 years of age. In many cases, special safety gear in these seniors’ cars would significantly decrease the likelihood of car accidents due to medical conditions.
Adults over the age of 59 made up 15% of all traffic fatalities in 2012. The sad fact is that many of these fatalities could have been prevented with the proper safety gear. Things like keyless entry, thicker steering wheels, displays with contrasting text and adjustable seats have been suggested to increase driver’s reaction times, as well as make those with physical ailments more comfortable while driving.
Helping with Decreased Flexibility and Muscle Strength
Seniors often have problems with decreased flexibility in joints like ankles, shoulders, and knees. Flexibility in all of these joints is imperative to have the ability to react quickly to avoid accidents. When a split second is needed to make a decision, it might be difficult for drivers with knee, ankle and shoulder problems to react quickly enough to prevent a collision.
Six-way adjustable seats can help by giving senior drivers more options to be seated comfortably and allow them an increased range of motion. Making these adjustable seats electric would also help seniors who have trouble with decreased grip strength so that they can adjust their seats quickly and easily.
Helping with Grip Strength
Many seniors suffer from arthritis or other issues that give them trouble gripping a steering wheel or getting into the vehicle. Stiff fingers when trying to work a key or turn the ignition can be extremely frustrating. Trouble gripping the steering wheel in an emergency can be catastrophic.
Thicker steering wheels and keyless entry can greatly reduce these problems. Drivers having trouble with fine motor skills will find it much easier to grip and turn thicker steering wheels. In addition, keyless entry will eliminate the need for grip strength when entering or starting the car.
Helping with Vision Problems
Many seniors have problems with vision as they age. Without enough contrast, important dashboard information might be impossible to read. However, larger displays with glare resistant contrasting text can make it much easier to read and will allow seniors to drive more safely.
Right now, only about 1 in 10 vehicles addresses the needs of senior drivers with health problems. Orange County, which has one of the highest populations of elderly drivers, has the fourth highest accident fatality rate as well, with about 130 deaths in 2011. With proper safety equipment, it is possible that lives could be saved, especially for elderly drivers who are dealing with health problems and diminished reflexes.
Fatal accidents are on a downward trend in Florida. If more vehicles were equipped with the devices designed to meet elderly drivers’ needs, it is very likely that this number would be reduced significantly. Elderly drivers shouldn’t have to give up their driving independence, when a few simple tweaks in vehicle design would allow them to keep it.
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