New Car Features Help Boomers Age Gracefully

The other day I was pouring myself a glass of juice and I pulled a muscle in my back. True story. I blame the fitness characters at PX 90 for this. They made me think if I did enough “ab rippers” and “wacky jacks” I would be able to handle anything – even manipulating a jug of juice.

The reality is that even with the best of fitness intentions, my working parts won’t ever work as well as they once did. That is because I am at the age known as “getting up there.” So far, there is no cure for this.

Car makers know this. They also know that American Baby Boomers like me regularly refuse to acknowledge our own inevitable deterioration. I first caught wind of this a few years ago when my new car ended up on a list of “smart cars for mature drivers.” (I prefer to use the word “mature” in an emotional context; frankly, I’ve felt mature since I was 9 years old; now I’m getting old-er. Let’s not soft-sell it.)

My own linguistic preference aside, it’s a good thing somebody is thinking about the needs of my gelatinous torso and slowed responses. Carmakers are adapting car features for the changing game conditions that many aging drivers face – diminished vision, flexibility and strength. How many? An additional 20 million Americans move into the 65+ age bracket between now and 2020.

So we’ll see thicker steering wheels– all the better to grip with arthritic hands – and adjustable seats and bars and steps to enable getting in and out of vehicles. Other high-tech touches like departure lane warnings are already being touted.

The good thing is that pandering to the changing physical needs of the Baby Boomers will help make for safer driving for everyone.

A 2010 Consumer Reports article listed a number of features for older drivers to look for when car shopping. Some of them – easy to read controls – are aimed at a target audience. Others are the kind of safety features that should be “must-haves” for anyone – front and side airbags, and good ratings on crash tests done by NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and IIHS (the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

Airbags and crashworthiness speak to one of the things that separate older drivers from younger. Older drivers cause fewer crashes, but when they are involved in them, those collisions lead to more serious injury and fatality. This will become more obvious as Baby Boomers continue to age en masse.

There’s only so much carmakers can do. What’s needed is another of the things that separate older drivers from their younger counterparts – maturity. Here I do mean it in the emotional and intellectual sense – the maturity to give in to the bifocals (or trifocals), or the maturity to hand over the keys when medications warrant passenger-status.

It’s the same maturity that knows, even in the face of the occasional orange juice injury, it’s better to stay fit.

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