The safer the car, the safer the driver — and passengers — can be. It’s a concept that makes a great deal of sense.
While an important consideration when thinking about vehicles for family members of all ages, this is especially important for the car driven by an aging parent or other loved one who we fear may have lessened driving skills or reflexes.
A safe car could be a new car or maybe the same one your senior loved one has had for some time and kept well maintained.
However, many older cars lack safety features found in the newer cars we take for granted today.
Considerations When Buying a New Car for Senior Loved Ones
Our seniors may be brand loyal when it comes to their vehicles. However, much has changed over the years about manufacturers and the cars they produce.
The lifelong favorite brands of some are no longer being sold.
Encourage your senior to look beyond the exterior of a car or at the particular model / manufacturer they have used for years. Some models have been revised significantly or been eliminated while there are many new models.
In addition there have been many innovations your senior might want to factor into his selection.
Think beyond appearance and color to reliability, safety features, reputation, convenience of the dealership, ability to get repairs easily, performance, price and comfort.
Come to think of it, those are probably the same things we all consider when buying our own cars.
Seniors should consider those items but these as well:
- Review safety ratings and crash tests for all cars your senior is considering. This information is free online or in print. Not all cars are tested in each model year. You can read the Department of Transportation’s safety ratings in print from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety publication or online at iihs.org.
- Be sure your senior has clear visibility when seated behind the wheel. Can they adjust the seat to get a clear view? Can they see all mirrors? Are there blind spots that could be unsafe?
- Can your senior get in and out of the car without trouble? Is there space enough to maneuver especially with decreased mobility? Can the height of the seat be changed to allow better access? Can the head rest be positioned at the appropriate height to provide support especially during an accident? Does the type of fabric on the seat let your senior slide in and out and get into the correct position?
- Can he or she reach the gas and brake pedals easily without confusion about which is which and push on them without straining?
- Is the seat belt easy to use, fit correctly and is the release button easy to reach? Does the seat belt hurt?
- Where are the airbags located especially on the steering wheel? Will it deploy on the torso or right into the face of your senior with 10″ of space from the wheel to your senior’s chest? Be sure they don’t need to move the seat so far forward to reach the pedals that the airbag now becomes dangerous during deployment.
- Are the devices such as wipers and headlights easy to reach, manipulate and can your senior operate them if fingers are arthritic?
- Can your senior read the controls — are they large enough and sufficiently back lit?
- Does the engine have enough power to meet their driving needs but not so much they may easily lose control?
- Is there adequate storage if a mobility device or medical equipment is needed to be transported for the driver or a passenger?
- Many cars are equipped with safety devices which may confuse drivers unfamiliar with them, such as back up camera, voice controlled features, rear windshield wipers, and warning alerts, and should possibly be disabled (or not installed) if this will decrease safety for your senior.
Maintaining Your Senior’s Car for Safety
Whether it has a few years on it or it is brand new, we need to be sure our senior loved ones keep their vehicles well maintained for a safe ride.
Always be sure to follow the owner’s manual directions for checkup guidelines to maintain or service a particular vehicle.
In some cases, you may want to drive your senior’s car occasionally to assess it yourself to ensure your loved ones and their passengers are safe. Listening to new sounds and trying out the features to be sure they are properly functioning is a necessary step.
There are a number of items that should be checked frequently.
- Maintain wiper blades replacing when they begin smearing during operation.
- Have the brakes checked regularly for signs of wear.
- Be alert for unusual sounds or a softening in the brakes when your senior drives or in your periodic assessment drives.
- Check the tire pressure and inflate them according to guidelines.
- Check the tires monthly for tread wear and replace as needed.
- Keep the car windows clean inside and out to keep the view clear. Don’t forget to clean all mirrors of dust and film buildup.
- Check the gauges for proper functioning so your senior is driving the correct speed and will not run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
Help Maintain Independence Longer
Driving gives your senior, and all of us, a sense of – and actual – independence.
Our seniors wish to drive as long as they possibly can.
Keeping their current car well maintained or purchasing a new model will help them and their passengers feel more confidant on the road.
Here are some books you might consider. Both books, and many others of interest to family caregivers, can be found in the Senior Care Corner Bookstore, powered by Amazon.com.
- The Senior Driver’s Survival Guide: What Older Drivers Must Know to Protect Their Driving Privileges In Their Golden Years
Remember, safe driving is not a function of age itself, as drivers of all ages vary in skill level. However, aging drivers may see skills deteriorate with reduced sight and mobility that often comes with age.
Helping them to keep their car in good working condition or purchasing a newer model with more safety features could help keep them safe on the road longer.