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Four great car features for older drivers

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We live in interesting times.

Computers, smartphones, and other gadgets have made the world a smaller place, metaphorically speaking. Automobiles and airplanes allow us to travel in hours distances that would've taken days or weeks just a century ago. And advances in safety and medical technology have extended the human lifespan by decades: in the early 1900s, the global life expectancy for a newborn was around 40 years (PDF), but today, that figure is nearly 70.  

There's a downside to that last item, though: as we live longer, our cognitive abilities often degrade, diminishing our ability to drive safely. This creates stress for many families, as they have to ask parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles to hand over the keys

But long before mental abilities begin to fade, older motorists can face physical problems that make driving more difficult. As part of the American Occupational Therapy Association's Older Driver Safety Awareness Week (December 2 - 6), AAA has updated its list of car features that benefit senior drivers. Among those features:

Keyless entry and ignition
As anyone with arthritis knows, gripping keys of any size can sometimes be a challenge. Vehicles that permit drivers to open doors and start vehicles by carrying a fob in their pocket or purse help solve that problem.

Six-way adjustable seats
This common feature can be a lifesaver for adults with knee, hip, and leg impairments, allowing them to enter and exit a vehicle with greater ease. 

Thick steering wheels
As with keys, many seniors have trouble gripping ordinary steering wheels. Thicker wheels make it easier for drivers to control vehicles, boosting safety.

High-contrast displays
It's no secret that vision often deteriorates with age. In the days of analog gauges, that often presented problems for older drivers, but now that so many dashboards consist of digital screens, drivers have greater control over the way that information is displayed. Increasing the contrast gives drivers access to the information they need at just a glance.

According to AAA's Jake Nelson, "A 2012 survey revealed that only one in 10 senior drivers with health issues are driving a vehicle with features like keyless entry or larger dashboard controls that can assist with such conditions." Now, as many shoppers look for bargains on 2013 models -- or check out new 2014 vehicles -- it's a great time to keep options like these in mind. 

For a complete overview of car features for older drivers, arranged by ailment, check out the Senior Driving section of AAA's website.

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