Mature Drivers Say Yes to Safety Technology


  • The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence Picture

    The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence Picture

    While only 4 percent of the over-50 survey respondents said they had a blind spot warning system in their cars, 40 percent say it would make them feel safer. | September 30, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • More than half of mature drivers surveyed said they would feel safer if their vehicles had all the newer safety technologies.
  • Mature drivers voted blind spot warning systems as the number one safety technology.
  • About half of mature drivers are confident about learning to use these new safety features; more than a third have one or more of the technologies.

HARTFORD, Connecticut — Mature drivers value new high-tech safety equipment, voting blind spot warning systems as their number one choice for making them feel safe, according to a new survey by The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the MIT AgeLab.

While older drivers are still phasing new safety equipment into their lives, they seem to be embracing the idea, says Jodi Olshevski, a gerontologist and executive director of the Hartford Center. "We found that a little over a third of the drivers over age 50 have [some of] these technologies," says Olshevski. While only 4 percent had the blind spot warning system, 40 percent say it would make them feel safer.

For the new survey, released in September, the researchers analyzed the responses of 874 drivers, age 50 and older, who were presented a list of 10 safety technologies that Hartford's experts had picked previously for their top 10 list. Olshevski's team wanted to see how the drivers' views squared up with the experts' views.

"Blind spot warning systems were consistently at the top," Olshevski says. "I was surprised by how strongly people felt."

Blind spot warning systems did not rank as high on the experts' list, however, coming in at number four. The systems use a camera to detect a vehicle in an adjacent lane not visible to the driver, then give an audible or warning light alert.

While the experts chose smart headlights as the number one technology, older drivers ranked them eighth. The headlights help drivers see on curvy roads, for instance, by pivoting when the car turns.

Here's how the rest of the list shaped up for consumers:

2. Crash mitigation systems, such as frontal collision warning systems that help monitor between-vehicle distances, alerting the driver if an accident is likely. New rating results of some systems are out from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

3. Emergency response systems, such as GM's OnStar and Toyota's Safety Connect, which drivers can activate if they have a medical problem, or which can activate automatically in an accident, helping emergency workers arrive more quickly.

4. Drowsy driver alerts, which use sophisticated algorithms to monitor steering and sometimes eye blinking rate, then issue alerts when driver behavior is ''off."

5. Reverse monitoring systems, which warn drivers about objects in the rear so they back up more safely.

6. Vehicle stability control systems, which sense when a driver is straying from the intended line of travel, such as out of lane, and bring the vehicle back.

7. Lane departure warning systems, which track a vehicle's position, usually with a camera on the rearview mirror, and issue alerts, visual or vibrating, when the vehicle position strays.

8. Smart headlights

9. Voice-activated systems, which let drivers access features ranging from climate control to e-mail so they can stay focused. Not everyone agrees that the systems are in improvement, however. A recent AAA study criticized them.

10. Assistive parking systems, which use cameras or other sensors to detect objects in the way, sometimes including a center console display.

Older drivers' choices of technologies didn't seem to be driven by anxiety, Olshevski says, but rather by a desire to stay safe and by their awareness that physical changes with age may affect driving safety.

She didn't find much techno-fear, either. "We found about half of them were pretty confident in learning to use the new technologies."

Edmunds says: Many older drivers, aware that age-related physical changes may affect driving skills, are embracing new safety technologies that can help them compensate.

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