Vehicles suitable for seniors
Choice of vehicle model can make a big difference for older drivers
The number of senior citizens behind the wheel has been increasing for years. And many are willing to purchase age-appropriate vehicles to preserve their mobility. This makes this group, which is financially well off in many countries, extremely appealing for the automotive industry. While none of the large automakers has a model explicitly labeled as being intended for seniors, the market is served by appropriate vehicle designs along with selected comfort, convenience, and safety systems. As a result, particular vehicle models or users are not stigmatized – in fact, the advantages benefit every age group. “Direct and indirect visibility, driver assistance systems, and passive safety elements all have an important role to play when it comes to safety,” says DEKRA accident researcher Markus Egelhaaf.
- Good visibility and ease of use are key factors in which vehicle to purchase
- Important features should come with as few distractions as possible
- Assistance systems can partially offset reduced driving performance
A tidy cockpit, clear and legible instruments, and a simple, clearly structured user interface can help to make the driver’s life a lot easier, reducing the number of variables they need to consider and thus improving their safety and comfort. Displays and display elements should have a high-contrast design in all their lighting states. Numbers and other characters and symbols need to be of sufficient size and easy to read with even just a quick glance. While driving, it must be possible for the driver to operate the vehicle’s key functions, such as the light and wiper controls, heating and ventilation settings, and radio controls, via haptic feedback, i.e. without the need to look at them. Screen menus operated by a single pushbutton and touchscreens can quickly overwhelm the driver or cause a dangerous distraction. “If safety-related functions are being relocated into touchscreen systems, a simple voice or gesture-operated system would undoubtedly be a better option for keeping distraction times to a minimum,” Egelhaaf points out.
When it comes to selecting driver assistance systems, those that offer the greatest potential benefits, especially for senior citizens, are the ones that help in complex and taxing traffic situations. These include intersection assistants, blind spot warning systems, lane change assistants, night vision systems, and automated emergency braking systems. Road sign assistants, which use cameras to detect the local speed limit and display it on the dashboard, also help drivers to compensate to a certain extent for deficits in their attention, providing an added sense of safety. Vehicle backup cameras and parking assistants can also make stressful situations more manageable, thus improving safety. Particularly at dusk and in the dark, intelligent lighting systems and high-beam assistants can be an important way to help compensate for the reduced ability to see in twilight and darkness that comes with age. With GPS systems, the key criteria are up-to-date maps and clear visual and acoustic instructions. E-call systems, especially those with an additional service call-out function, can also help to increase a driver’s sense of safety and reduce stress in accident and breakdown situations.
When it comes to purchasing a vehicle, there are some markets in which older road users should be asking themselves whether to opt for a vehicle with an automatic transmission. In Germany, for example, there has been a rapid increase in the market share for new vehicles with automatic transmission. According to one statistic, it was over 55 percent in 2020, compared to just under 28 percent in 2010. However, this is nothing in comparison to the USA or Japan, where automatic vehicles account for around 90 percent of the market. It is safe to assume that manual transmissions will continue to lose their relevance in time – especially as some modern assistance systems only work in combination with automatic transmissions, and electric drives eliminate the need for gear shifting.