Technology can help keep older drivers on the road - FOX 13 News

Technology can help keep older drivers on the road

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Take a short ride and you'll see all sorts of drivers behind the wheel.

"They're multitasking, trying to get from point A to point B, and forgetting that they have the power to ruin someone's life forever," said Michele Harris of AAA.

We all know that distracted drivers can be dangerous. University of West Florida psychology professor Steven Kass says statistically, "What causes most of the accidents is inattention."

But there's another challenge no one can avoid -- our age.

Mature drivers are going to have slower reaction times, Dr. Kass said. "They have a narrower focus of attention, they don't see thing on the periphery as well as a younger driver would."

Young or old, driving is a privilege.

"Age creeps up on us," said Harris.

It's a problem since, as we mature, that license becomes even more valuable.

"They want to preserve that freedom they have by getting in a car whenever they want, and go anywhere they want," Michael Merwarth, a USAA underwriting officer.

Yoli Buss is 68 and drives every day. "I feel safe, and I feel my grandchildren are safe in this car... That's why I have an SUV."

Yoli spent more than two decades promoting AAA's senior driving programs and car clinics.

She took us for a ride. Now that she's retired, she brushes up on her skills every six months. It's a class that AAA offers to its members. "By going to the website and taking these classes, you realize what your limitations are as you get older."

On the website (http://seniordriving.aaa.com/maintain-mobility-independence/driver-improvement-courses-seniors), you see both an online course you can take at home as well as a driver improvement course. AAA says it may also pay off when it comes to insurance premiums as some companies offer a discount for those who complete the course.

AARP also offers online help for the children of older drivers. It's free and called "Can We Talk?" It helps you plan your talks and even objectively assess the driving skills of your parents or loved one.

With more than 33-million drivers over the age of 65 on U.S. roads, car makers are taking note. Kristin Thurston with Edmunds.com said, "Manufacturers have done a great job of coming up with some new technology. Coming up with the smart headlights; adjusting the glare to those headlights."

The Hartford and M.I.T. age lab ranked those brainy beams a top technology to benefit mature drivers, especially since night driving is the biggest problem aging drivers say they face.

Emergency response systems scored second.

"If the airbags deploy or the wheels of the vehicle in an accident are off the ground for a short amount of time, 911 is automatically called, so that helps," Thurston continued.

Back-up camera technology is not new, but it can be combined with newer bells and whistles.

"As you back up, any object within six feet, you'll actually here an audible tone," explained Geoffrey Patterson of Bill Currie Ford as he took us for a test drive in a 2013 Ford Escape.

The "beep" gets louder and more frequent as you get closer to the object.

Other technology tracks your projected path while in reverse by displaying color coded lines on the screen. They also help you straighten the car and measure distance as you back up the vehicle.

When you're on the road, blind spot warning systems help visualize objects mirrors don't always reflect. Both side view mirrors have the feature. "Right here, you have these little things here that light up when a car is in your blind spot so you know it's there even if you can't see it."

The survey finds more warning systems alert us when we get drowsy, leave our lanes, or get too close to cars traveling near us. All promise seniors an advantage.

"Sixty-five percent of those people are feeling more confident if there are extra safety features in those vehicles, so they seem to have a sense of urgency to get those new safety features in the vehicle," Thurston said.

"Sometimes we aren't as alert as we used to be," Yoli admitted.

While she plans to drive as long as possible, she believes there are limitations to how much a high tech car can help.

Michelle agreed. "Technology only does so much. At the end of the day, you have to take responsibility for yourself to be safe."

It's something to consider no matter your age.

LINKS:

AAA Senior Driving: http://seniordriving.aaa.com/maintain-mobility-independence/driver-improvement-courses-seniors

Hartford - MIT Age Lab: http://newsroom.thehartford.com/News-Releases/New-Research-From-The-Hartford-And-MIT-AgeLab-Shows-Significant-Number-Of-Adults-Concerned-About-Parents-Driving-Abilities-31b.aspx

AARP's Can We Talk: http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/transportation/we_need_to_talk/?cmp=RDRCT-WNTT

CDC's Older Adult Drivers: http://www.cdc.gov/Motorvehiclesafety/Older_Adult_Drivers/index.html

USAA's Drive Sharp Program: http://www.usaa.com/drivesharp

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