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Best cars for older drivers

Consumer Reports News: May 13, 2010 12:12 PM

Recent data on how the US population will “age” significantly in the next 40 years or so and how to keep that aging population driving safely makes certain aspects of any new vehicle purchase for this older age group particularly important.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers a resource that outlines smart features for mature drivers. Specifically this resource addresses a number of afflictions that may impact an older person’s driving ability and comfort behind the wheel, and outlines vehicle features that may best address those afflictions.

Not surprisingly, items such as ease-of-access, larger displays and controls and good visibility that AAA suggests shoppers look for in a safe and comfortable car for an older driver are also ones that we focus on in our suggested vehicles for that same age group.

The list below summarizes features to look for when buying a new vehicle for an older driver, as well as specific suggestions of vehicles that meet those criteria. We strongly urge any older drivers looking for a new vehicle, or who may be facing some “aging issues” within the life of their next vehicle to take a look.

Lets face it, many of us aren’t that far away. Here are some features to look for:

The must haves:

  • A crashworthy vehicle--check crash test ratings from NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which assigns vehicle star ratings and IIHS (the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
  • Stability control--Stability control is a must for anyone and will be standard equipment for all vehicles starting in the 2012 model year.
  • A full set of airbags – choose a car with side and curtain airbags in addition to front airbags. The best ones have control systems that deploy airbags with the appropriate force depending on the size of the passenger and position of the front seat. Also look for:
  • Good visibility--make sure to check the rear and sideward visibility in addition to visibility forward. Also consider views from both inside and outside mirrors.
  • Power seats--to make adjustments for comfort and safety. Consider seat comfort items such as lumbar support and seat heaters as well.
  • Easy access--look for seat heights that don’t require too much bending, climbing or ducking and lower sill heights (lower step over).
  • Adjustable pedals or a steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes--either can help maintain a comfortable driving position while keeping a safe distance from the wheel mounted front airbag.
  • Easy to see and read controls--look for controls that are mounted closer to eye level and have larger knobs and buttons and easy-to-read contrasting displays.
  • Visor coverage or visor extensions--these can help eliminate glare particularly for those with vision issues.

The following vehicles are Consumer Reports recommended, meaning they perform well in our more than 50 tests, have average or better reliability, and have performed well in government and/or insurance industry crash tests.

Honda Odyssey
Subaru Forester
Hyundai Azera
Honda Accord
Kia Rondo

Jim Travers and Jennifer Stockburger

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