Better and safer cars are here now-and guess what’s coming!
By Cathy Droz
We’re aging with grace and dignity, but it’s a fact that boomers are 70 million strong and purchase the most vehicles in the world. We grands still want to drive those sporty cars and SUVs, albeit with our grandchildren in tow. So what are auto manufacturers doing to keep us buying cool autos yet taking into consideration that we are getting shorter, ache more and live longer?
First let’s talk about what manufacturers are doing to make their designs more grand friendly and then take an in-depth look at the “CarFit” program to see how well our present vehicles “fit” us.
Auto manufacturers are designing vehicles to be more inviting and safer for grand drivers. Toyota and Lexus, for example, designed what they call “360-degree handles.” These handles allow doors to be opened from the outside using only major arm muscles, in contrast to “paddle handles” that require strength in the fingers and wrists, which often are compromised by arthritis and other conditions in seasoned drivers.
Many of the auto engineers and designers are rolling out brighter instrument displays in many vehicles, using what is called “vacuum fluorescent” technology instead of liquid crystal, the conventional but dimmer method. Designers have begun to incorporate larger type fonts throughout vehicle interiors as well-including the clocks and navigation maps.
Ford is improving their designs for the grands by testing with a “Third Age Suit.” It’s essentially a big jumpsuit that engineers wear with enough extra material, straps and other contraptions to cramp vision and hearing and to severely limit the mobility of every joint and appendage, and it allows product developers to experience firsthand some of the limitations of aging. Utilizing this “Third Age Suit” technology, they chose the Taurus to implement their grand-friendly ideas.
They designed strap-like exterior handles with doors that open wider than most models. They also designed the seats to be 3-4 inches higher than the average sedan, making entrance and exit easier and improving outward visibility. They added a mirror to the sunglass holder so grands can see their grandchildren or friends in the backseat without having to turn their heads. Ford is also involved in the Cross Traffic Alerts and the Blind Spot System [this links to a video] for securing the safety of our generation.
The new Toyota Camry has what they call an “assist plate.” This is a sturdy palm rest, with the surface size and shape comparable to a deck of playing cards. It is positioned on the door side of the driver’s seat. As the boomer turns in the driver seat to get into and out of the vehicle, they can use this specific spot to push themselves up and out, or guide themselves in.
Most manufacturers are looking at ways to make our driving years longer and safer on the road. General Motors feels their Electric Networked Vehicle, the EN-V, coming in the year 2030, will keep boomers driving longer, as these cars drive and park themselves! In the meantime GM is also working on what grands need “before 2030.
I personally have benefited from oversized side view mirrors, sun shades, larger fob icons, bigger and brighter print on the navigation systems, soft lighting inside the car and puddle lights for nighttime exits. I also like a push button to open and close the cargo hatch door on SUVs and crossovers. With the soft lighting surrounding the vanity mirrors, I somehow look ten years younger.
Now, if you are not buying a new car and want to feel safe in the car you drive now, contact AAA, AARP and other agencies like AOTA that endorse and provide a program called CarFit. It is a 20-minute show-and-tell session with a trained technician, as well as one-on-ones with the drivers. You are given a set of 12 questions, and upon completion you will receive suggestions for areas of adjustments you might make to your vehicle.
Here are a series of questions and exercises you would go through. Check it out yourself.
- Are you the only driver? If not, do you change the settings in your car when you drive?
- Do you wear your seat belt? All the time? Show me how you buckle your seat belt.
- Does your steering wheel tilt, and did you know that you can adjust it for your height in the seat?
- Check head restraints; are they placed properly with the driver in the seat (center of the back of your head)
- The distance between your chest and the steering wheel should be 10-12 inches
- Check the line of sight. A person should be able to see three inches above the steering wheel.
- Your foot position on the gas pedal and brake. No tippy toes to drive. If this is a problem (as loss of height can be part of aging), extenders are recommended for the pedals.
- Mirrors: Can you identify objects behind you or 20 feet away? The tech stands in the back of the car and to the sides. Blind spots? If there is difficulty in those spots, then adjustments to the mirrors is suggested.
- Check the ease of turning your head from left to right
- Can you turn the ignition key with no hesitation?
- Can you easily use the blinkers and show me how to work your hazard lights and emergency brake?
When the assessment is done, the technician may make some suggestions and also give you the name of some distributors” of after-market products that might be of help, including a swivel seat to make getting in and out easier.
Even at 60 years of age I understand that certain parts of my body and reaction times are not as sharp as they once were. It doesn’t mean that I can’t drive or drive safely. With an assessment such as CarFit we can continue to drive comfortably for many more years.
Whether we buy a new car from a manufacturer that understands us or we have our present vehicle checked out, it is encouraging to see that all auto manufacturers, not just the ones mentioned, acknowledge we have the buying power and the driving power to keep the engineers working on ways we can keep on truckin’.
Cathy Droz is a test-car driver for the boomer generation. She and her on-air partner review autos on their Phoenix radio show. To hear their podcasts, visit Twofortheroadusa.com and then click on the radio show link.