Independent senior living is a lot easier when you are still able to drive. But as aging slows down reaction times makes it harder to see or hear potential dangers, many seniors become nervous and apprehensive behind the wheel.
Luckily, new technologies are making it easier and safer for seniors to remain behind the wheel.
Military technologies in your car cabin.
Many technologies originally developed for use on the battlefield are being adapted to make driving a less dangerous activity. New sensors and faster, smaller computer processors are making these technologies feasible for small commercial vehicles.
Some of these include:
- Heads-up display (HUD). In the 1950s and '60s, the increased speed of fighter jets necessitated the development of a projected display screen that would enable pilots to target weapons and monitor instrument readings while maintaining line-of-sight along their flight paths. HUDs are now widely available in automobiles; they often display fuel level, speed, direction and warning lights normally found on the dash, and allow you to keep your eyes on the road ahead.
- Night vision. Originally developed for use by American reconnaissance units in the jungles of Vietnam, night vision became widely used by many militaries in the 1990s. Advances, and declassification, in the technology have enabled it to be used in family vehicles. Infrared sensors pick up the heat signatures of obstacles, such as deer or unseen pedestrians, and transmit an image onto a vehicle's dashboard screen or, in some cases, a windshield HUD.
- Proximity detectors. Much like sonar, these sensors emit an electromagnetic field and detect obstacles in a vehicle's path or in its "blind spots." When an obstacle is found, they give the driver an auditory and/or visual warning to help him or her avoid a collision.
More eyes make for better alertness.
Many newer vehicles are being equipped with multi-directional cameras that help drivers keep a watch on trouble spots like the rear of the vehicle, lower flanks, or blind spots.
For seniors, who often have a more limited range of neck motion, the advantage is clear: you don't have to crane your neck to look behind as you drive in reverse. In fact, rear-view cameras often provide a wider field of vision than you could achieve if you did turn to look.
Some vehicles use an integrated system of rear and side-mounted cameras to generate a "top-down" field of vision, which approximates a bird's eye view of the car. Many of these automatically activate when the car is put into reverse; this allows driver to see obstacles along the sides and rear of the car while parallel parking.
Some cars almost drive themselves.
Parallel parking is one of the most difficult maneuvers to perform. Some vehicles now feature self-parking; at the touch of a button, a car will use peripheral sensor data to reverse and parallel park itself, while the driver remains hands-free.
The lane departure warning, a standard feature in some vehicles, uses front-mounted cameras to detect lane markers. A computer module interfacing with those cameras can issue a warning sound to the driver, or even a course correction or braking maneuver, if the car begins to drift out of its lane— an especially helpful feature for night driving
Tips for staying safe behind the wheel.
Have regular sight and hearing check-ups.
Aging brings unavoidable changes in our visual and auditory senses. Regular screenings ensure that older drivers aren’t a danger to themselves or others while driving.
Avoid driving in rush hour or in poor visibility conditions as much as possible.
Plan your trips to the grocery, doctor's office, or visits during off-hour driving times. Plan your route so that you can stay on familiar roads. If your reaction times have slowed a bit, use side roads instead of the freeway.
Take a driver improvement course.
AAA and other organizations offer refresher courses for drivers of all ages. Some are even geared specifically toward seniors' needs. Taking a driver refreshment course may help you to adapt to your changing body, could make you a safer motorist and may even earn you a discount on your car insurance!
Be realistic about your abilities.
All people eventually face the day when it is no longer safe for them drive. No sense in fighting it. Consider hiring a driver, using a senior transportation service, or even moving to a retirement community. Many retirement communities including the Deupree House, offer free shuttle rides to and from shopping areas, or to doctor visits.