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5 Car Safety Systems Older Drivers Should Not Skip

Older drivers are among the safer drivers. But car safety tech is important

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With more older drivers on the road than ever before, experts were concerned there would be more accidents. But the truth ended up being much different. Older drivers are actually some of the safer drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 “With aging boomers, we were worried that crashes and fatalities would increase, but we didn’t see that happen,” says Aimee Cox, research associate at the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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But older drivers are still what traffic experts and researchers refer to as vulnerable road users. For example, they’re more susceptible to torso injuries in accidents, says Cox, adding that older drivers tend to have older model cars that don’t have improved technology, which could also put them at greater risk. Consequently, safety systems in vehicles are even more important for older adults. But which ones really help keep you safer? Here’s a list.

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In frontal impacts, safety belts and frontal airbags are essential, says Thomas Broberg, senior safety expert at Volvo Cars.

Jennifer Morrison, manager of vehicle safety compliance at Mazda North America, agrees. “Gone are the days of vehicles equipped with only two airbags. Modern vehicles like the all-new Mazda CX-90, have upward of 10,” points out Morrison, who spent more than a decade investigating accidents at the National Transportation Safety Board before joining Mazda. Many of today’s cars and SUVs have not only front airbags but also side-curtain, side-impact, and knee-bolster air bags to “cushion our fragile bodies in the event of a collision,” she says.

Automatic emergency braking

“The number one safety feature with a proven track record of reducing the occurrence and severity of crashes is an automatic emergency braking system,” says Morrison.

Using a combination of cameras and radar to monitor the road ahead, these systems can prevent about half of all rear end crashes by triggering alerts and then automatically hitting the brakes when necessary, according to Morrison.

“The evolution of autobrake technologies has moved rapidly the last decades, increasing the types of situations they may include,” notes Lotta Jakobsson, senior technical specialist for injury prevention at Volvo Cars. Volvo’s systems include large-animal detection technology intended to avoid deer and other animal accidents, which can be deadly.

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Blind spot monitoring system

Morrison also recommends buying a vehicle with a blind spot monitoring system. “Those little lights in the side mirrors make all the difference,” she says, and can help prevent sideswipe accidents and the likelihood of dangerous lane changes.

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Rear cross-traffic alerts

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Avoid driver distraction

This tip is not a gadget or warning system. It’s common sense. For all the positive news for older drivers, there are still plenty of reasons to keep your focus on the road, not on your phone. 

Traffic deaths have been rapidly increasing over the past decade or so, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Experts have offered several explanations for the increase, but the overall view in the transportation industry is that driver distraction due to smartphone use is generally to blame.

“Despite advancements in automotive safety technology, the most critical safety system in today’s cars is still the driver,” says Mazda’s Morrison.

To prevent collisions when backing up — particularly when you cannot see around obstructions like an adjacent van — make sure your car includes rear cross-traffic alerts. These systems will warn you about approaching vehicles behind you and in some cases will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision.

Left-hand turn assistance

For older drivers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Cox points out that left-hand turns at busy intersections are a particular hazard for senior drivers, who experience a third of all accidents in intersections. “Audi and BMW, for example, have a left-turn assistant,” says Cox. “It engages when you signal a left turn and then alerts and issues a warning if it senses there is going to be a crash.”

Of course, older drivers will have to learn some new skills to reap the benefits of these latest technologies. New car owners need to take the time to learn how each of the systems work to recognize and understand warnings like blind spot alerts.

“The safety systems do help — if you know what to do,” says Stefan Heck, whose company, Nauto, monitors and helps train professional drivers.​​

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