Keeping aging parents safe on the road

THEY FED YA, WIPED YA AND WHIPPED YA WHEN YA NEEDED IT—SO LET’S KEEP ‘EM SAFE OUT THERE.

Jean 80th cake II
AG's mom, on her 80th birthday.

It’s not easy watching parents age, and worrying about their driving compounds it. But there are steps to make driving as easy as possible for seniors. The American Automobile Association, with the assistance of the Gainsville, Fla.-based National Older Driver Research & Training Center at the University of Florida, offers the following features children of aging parents or the seniors themselves should look for on a car.

*Adjustable steering wheel

You should try and position the driver so he or she is at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel airbag as it’s the optimal position to relieve back, shoulder and neck pain. If possible, the car should have an electronic adjuster rather than a manual.

*Large dashboard controls

BMWs, for example, feature tiny buttons, while Volvo and Honda in particular make controls you can find easily and work without mistakenly pressing another button.

*Power-operated seats

These don’t require as much agility or strength to operate, and should be at least 6-way; forward and backward, up and down and seatback forward or backward. Electrically powered is preferable to non-powered seats.

*Four doors, not two

Even if a parent drives alone most of the time, it’s easier to deposit and retrieve packages from the rear if there’s a door rather than requiring the front seats to be moved forward to access the area.

*Buy a sedan

A sports car may be Dad’s idea of living it up, but you also have to squeeze in and out of them. Consider a sedan, which more or less provides even entry and exit, rather than a crossover or SUV which requires a step up.

*Keyless entry

Operated via a button on a key fob, this allows arthritic hands to lock and unlock the car without having to twist a lock.

*Dual-stage/dual-threshold airbags

These bags vary based on driver and passenger’s weight, how far they’re sitting away from the bags and the severity of the crash. All of this is important for frail older adults who risk injury from bags that deploy with too much force.

•A stability control system

This helps maintain the car’s equilibrium while turning, especially important in snow or rain. It will also automatically make quick corrections to the vehicle to keep it stable, a plus for some older drivers whose reaction times are slower. “A car should fit you like your shoes and clothes,” says Desiree Lanford, occupational therapist/certified driving-rehabilitation specialist at the University of Florida and evaluator in AAA’s senior project.  “It should be comfortable enough that you can ‘wear’ it for extended periods of time. Too often, people pick out a vehicle based on looks or other features and don’t realize until too late that it’s not a good fit for them.”

-Josh Max/AutoGigolo.com

Precious cargo.