Buying the Right Car During Retirement

Sunrise Senior Living  |  February 17, 2020
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Driving represents freedom to many people. For older adults, it’s also linked to independence. Being able to hop in your car and run errands, head off on vacation, or simply go to a friend’s home for dinner, is empowering.

While aging brings undeniable changes, such as decreased flexibility, it doesn’t always require a senior to give up driving. Age shouldn’t be the determining factor in deciding when to stop driving. In fact, it’s a myth that older drivers are a danger to others on the road. Teen drivers, especially males between the ages of 16 and 19, continue to cause more accidents than seniors.

Driving safety is an issue, however, that older adults and their family members need to be mindful of and monitor. Sometimes it comes down to choosing the right vehicle or the proper adaptive equipment to allow a senior driver to stay safe behind the wheel of their car.

Senior-Friendly Vehicles to Consider

Consumer Reports evaluates vehicles for a variety of safety features, including those that impact seniors. Front seat access, visibility, high performance headlights, intuitive controls, and easy-to-read gauges are attributes they evaluate closely.

Safety features that are typically optional, but equally useful, include back-up cameras, parallel parking assistance, and lane-departure notification. Power seats, an adjustable steering wheel, and adaptable foot pedals are others.

The following cars are ranked the highest for safety:

  • Subaru Forester
  • Subaru Outback
  • Kia Sportage
  • Kia Forte

A few other models also rank well in terms of senior-friendly features:

  • Nissan Rogue
  • Ford Escape
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Chrysler Pacifica

Along with having a vehicle that is easier to access and drive, there are driving tools and aids that can help. For many seniors, the first step is to examine any limitations that may affect one’s driving performance.

Identifying Potential Challenges

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has a Self-Rating Tool older drivers can use to assess their skills. This brief test will identify an individual driver’s strengths and weaknesses, and offer tips for overcoming limitations.

In many cases, driving aids can be the solution. These adaptive tools can help to address a variety of potential challenges:

  • Side and rearview mirror adapters and extenders
  • Pulls to make it easier to access and close the seat belt
  • Extenders for the brake and gas pedals
  • Swiveling seat cushions to make it easier to slide behind the wheel
  • Car caddie for entering and exiting a vehicle

An occupational therapist is often a good resource for conducting an in-person skills assessment, and identifying tools that may improve driver safety. Occupational therapists who undergo this training are known as driving specialists. Search The American Occupational Therapy Association website to find a driving specialist nearby.

If you are an adult child or close friend concerned about an older driver’s skills and safety, How to Objectively Evaluate a Senior's Fitness for Driving may be useful. It will give you some ideas for assessing your loved one’s driving.