By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Will technology help senior drivers stay behind the wheel longer?
Placeholder Image
Mature drivers embrace enhanced safety technology in cars, but theyre leery of becoming too reliant on it, according to a new survey.

The Hartford and MIT AgeLab surveyed more than 300 drivers ages 50 to 69 to see what technology in their motor vehicles theyd be willing to adopt. The mature drivers said theyd be most willing to pay for tools to help them stay out of accidents.

The survey found that the vast majority were more than happy to consider reverse backup cameras required in all cars by 2018 as well as systems that monitor blind spots, so-called smart headlights and collision-avoidance tools including lane-departure warnings.

But more than 4 in 10 worried theyd become too dependent on parking-assistance technology, while a quarter expressed the same concern about adaptive cruise control. And while 75 percent were interested in seeing and learning about a self-driving car, just 31 percent said they would buy one, even if it didnt cost any more than other cars.

This is the latest in a three-year series of studies with MIT on evolving vehicle technology, said Jodi Oshevski, lead gerontologist and executive director of The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence, which studies issues of interest to a mature market and recommends products to the insurance and mutual fund company. "We looked at the top technologies, which are becoming more available, not just in high-end cars. It's important drivers learn about them and how they work especially mature drivers. The question has been, how do we help older drivers stay on the road safely for as long as possible? We think these technologies are important."

Age-related change

Scott Fischer, owner of a Chicago-based recruiting firm, is not so worried about his own driving skills at age 55. But he has college-age daughters he wants to keep as safe as possible and he believes technology may help that.

He's also watched his 83-year-old dad face the need to scale back driving to match changes in his capability. Night driving for his father is harder than it used to be, so he tries to avoid it. And he doesnt like to drive too far these days, so he keeps his travel pretty local.

Sandwiched between two generations, Fischer was happy to be included on The Hartford/MIT AgeLab panel. He said he believes that improvements in technology will make it possible for older drivers to drive longer safely and put off, at least temporarily, giving up their car keys.

But he has not yet reached that inevitable moment with his father.

"Dad doesnt want to give up driving. Technology has options that would definitely free us from some of the worry and allow him to drive longer," he said.

Thats a growing dilemma that multiple generations of families face. By 2030, 70 million-plus Americans will be at least 65, and more than 90 percent of them will have a driver's license. For some of them, because of health or vision problems or even limited physical flexibility, the decision to drive will be risky. The Deseret News earlier looked at the challenges posed when it's no longer safe for someone who's older to drive.

Tech to the rescue?

For several years, The Hartford and MIT have been looking at the intersection between driving and aging to see which technologies will benefit aging drivers, said Jodi Olshevski, lead gerontologist at The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence.

One of the good news stories is that many of the technologies can help enhance driving for some of the normal changes that occur, especially around flexibility and range of motion, she said.

Simple inability to turn the head or twist around adequately to check blind spots can pose real risks, she said, noting not all the solutions are high-tech. Some basic flexibility exercises can also preserve ability and make driving safer. But tools, tech or otherwise, only work if you use them. The survey revealed attitudes toward technology and whether drivers were willing to take advantage of it.

One of the misperceptions is that the older consumer is resistant to new technology, Joseph Coughlin, director of MIT AgeLab, told the Deseret News. Ninety percent were willing to have at least one (tech tool) in their car maybe more. As new generations that are more technologically advanced age, even more will be willing to give it a go, he said.

While a few study participants had backup cameras in their cars, the survey subjects were deliberately, for the most part, those with little in the way of technology in their vehicles, said Olshevski. Faced with so many new choices, they consistently said yes to two: the blind-spot warning system and reverse backup cameras.

Coughlin said he believes as people become more use to the technologies and better informed about their capability, it will lead eventually to a reinvention of the driving experience.

Its critical, we think, that drivers as they age learn to adopt these tools, said Olshevski. The hope is these technologies will help to enhance driving.

As for Fischer, he was stunned by the techology opportunities available and those that are in planning stages. As a guy who's on the road a lot, he said, he'd wait for the driverless car and other advanced tech options to be tested out thoroughly. But the idea of technology that would "give me the ability to access my office while I'm driving is something I am really excited about."

The Hartford has published a guidebook and video quiz to help older drivers learn about the technologies now available in cars. They can be found at thehartford.com.
Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter