What are the Best Cars for Seniors
Last Updated: November 15, 2019
Cecil Britton, a retired Lockheed engineer, considered buying a new car this year. Not only did he want a car that was easy to use, he also wanted one that could safely get him to his destination.
“I’m still in pretty good shape,” says Britton, 79, whose previous cars included a 2006 Honda Odyssey and a 2015 Accord. “But I noticed that when I’d get in my Odyssey, I wasn’t able to back it up and look to see things behind me. My neck doesn’t turn as well as it used to, and my peripheral vision is not as good as it used to be, either.”
Britton is one of the many senior drivers on the roads today, and their numbers are growing. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were 50% more drivers over age 65 in 2015 than there were in 1999.
With these large numbers comes an increased need for vehicles that make driving easier while keeping seniors, and other drivers, safe. The good news is that cars are now safer than they have ever been. However, with so many cars on the market, the process of finding the right one can be daunting.
What Cars Are Best for Seniors?
When looking for the most suitable cars for older adults, there are several areas to focus on. However, safety is the top priority. Some systems can speed up reaction times, help senior drivers to remain alert, and assist with emergency braking. Features such as power seats, adjustable pedals, large rear windows, and a tilt steering wheels can improve road visibility.
Many seniors appreciate comfortable vehicles. It may be worth it to invest in a luxury model that comes with additional cushioning, more room in the cabin and large, easy-to-use controls. Also, luxury models are more likely to come with advanced safety systems.
One final thing to think about is the height of the vehicle.1 Four-door sedans are great for maneuvering, but they can be more difficult to slide into for people with joint pain. SUVs and crossovers are easy to enter, and they may allow for more control in snowy weather due to the better traction.
Which Safety Features Should You Look For?
Safety is vital when shopping for any vehicle. What safety features are best for seniors? Here are several amazing systems that can help older adults feel comfortable and safe while behind the wheel:
- Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC): This system uses special sensors to maintain a safe distance between your car and the one in front of you. The control is especially useful for long-distance trips on the highway. A car with this type of cruise control can automatically brake or accelerate to let you safely follow other drivers. This includes slamming on the brakes if needed to avoid an unexpected accident.
- Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): The purpose of an AEB system is to help drivers react more quickly to emergencies. If sensors detect a potential collision, they apply the brakes right away. The brake isn’t supposed to replace staying awake at the wheel, but it can help older adults to improve response times in emergencies.2
- Lane Departure Warning: This system lets you know if the vehicle is starting to drift. It keeps track of the white lines on the road and sounds an alert if it notices that you’re leaving your lane by accident. With another related technology called Lane Keep, the car takes action to steer you back into the correct lane.
- Rear-View Cameras: This safety feature is a huge help for older adults. If turning the neck to look back is too painful, rear-view cameras let seniors stay completely comfortable when backing up. A screen shows what’s behind the automobile and can help drivers to avoid collisions and protect kids who are playing nearby.
- Blind Spot Detection: This is another help for people who have neck pain. Blind spot detection uses sensors to warn drivers when there’s a vehicle in the car’s blind spot. Usually, small lights appear on the door mirrors when other cars approach from behind.
Some brand-new vehicles have even more advanced systems to keep seniors safe when driving. For example, Driver-Attention Monitor technology can detect warning signs that drivers are starting to fall asleep or get distracted. A loud alarm can wake people up. In the future, vibrating seats may also help prevent falling asleep at the wheel.
Which Cars Are Best for Seniors?
Each year, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety puts out the “Top Safety Picks” which is the best in terms of safety. According to Peery Stern, the editor-in-chief of Automotive Content Experience, more than 350 new cars arrive on the market each year, and the IIHS awards only about 59 of them its “Top Safety Pick+” award. The IIHS does such a thorough job assessing car safety that many media organizations base their “Safest Cars Lists” on its data. These include CNN Money, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report and Stern’s website. What makes IIHS’s report interesting is that it doesn’t just look at front crash test results. As Stern points out, “there are few cars that don’t do well in crash tests anymore.” They also heavily consider car safety technology, which is relatively new in the past decade.
What Are the Best New Cars for Seniors?
There are plenty of options for seniors who want a mixture of comfort, luxury, and safety. Here are a few of the best:
- Subaru Forester: As one of the top picks for seniors, the Subaru Forester has good comfort, great visibility, and easy-to-use controls. Even better, safety systems such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assist are all standard.
- Toyota Camry: This sedan is a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS.3 It also has a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warnings, and automatic emergency braking come standard. The Camry also has incredible visibility.
- Audi A4: The luxury A4 is roomy, comfortable and easy to drive. It comes standard with forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking, as well as wipers and headlights that turn on automatically when it rains.
- Hyundai Santa Fe: With great access to the front seat, smooth control, and good back support, this SUV is comfortable for older adults to drive. Safety features such as forward collision warning, blind spot warning, and automatic emergency braking all come standard.4
- Honda CR-V: This crossover is simple for seniors to climb into comfortably, and it has an amazing amount of legroom and storage space.5 Folding rear seats make it easy to transport everything from a walker to groceries. Stellar IIHS safety ratings are a great sign, and the standard model comes with a rearview camera. For adaptive cruise control and other safety features, you need to upgrade.
- Kia Sorento: This SUV takes size to the next level, so it’s a great option for seniors who enjoy driving their grandkids. Its excellent collision performance gives it an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, and all of its controls are easy to use.
In many vehicles, high-tech safety features are not standard in the base price. These features must be added on, usually in bundled packages. While these packages can cost $1,800 and up, they aren’t offered exclusively on high-end models. It may be possible to choose more affordable makes and models, such as Hyundai or Kia, and load them up with safety features for around $20,000.
How Can You Choose the Best Cars for Older Adults?
Safety is one of the most important areas to consider when looking for a car for older adults. Here are a few tips for finding a reliable car, SUV or crossover with excellent safety ratings:
1. Learn About the Latest Safety Technologies Available
If you haven’t bought a new car in the past decade, you may not be aware of just how far car safety technology has come. Many of the technologies available are uniquely suited for seniors and their needs.
Take Britton, for example. He loved his Odyssey but had a hard time maneuvering it, so he settled with the Accord. But when he needed a bigger car than the Accord to accommodate his wife Belle’s mobility scooter, he was pleasantly surprised to find the 2018 version of his beloved Odyssey was vastly improved. Naturally, he bought one.
His new minivan, like many vehicles these days, comes equipped with safety features that make driving much easier. Lane departure assist is just one of the many safety features that are included. The minivan warns him when he accidentally drifts from his lane, helping him make corrections as needed. It also has cameras that help him see where he is backing up. The side mirrors automatically rotate downward when he puts the car in reverse to make it easy to maneuver.
“It’s really got everything you can think of. You have to try to have an accident almost,” says Britton, who laughs and adds that he’s not a paid spokesman for Honda.
2. Make Safety the Most Important Feature
Do these state-of-the-art bells and whistles really work? They do. The IIHS has conducted studies on accident prevention and found that advanced safety features and warning systems make a big difference. Here are some of their findings:
- Collision avoidance technology reduces injuries in crashes by 21 percent.
- Front crash prevention with auto brake cuts the rate of front-to-rear crashes by 50 percent.
- If all passenger vehicles had been equipped with lane departure warning systems in 2015, more than 55,000 injuries would have been prevented.
3. Consider Buying a Pre-Owned Vehicle
If family members or loved ones are on a budget, it may be possible to maximize safety by looking for a pre-owned or used car. It can take some extra effort, but there are many high-quality used vehicles with excellent safety scores and solid features that come standard.
Before buying, perform a quick check on the car’s vehicle identification number. The VIN can tell you if the automobile has been in any accidents or if there are any recalls for models.6 The IIHS keeps an up-to-date list of the safest used cars to help shoppers know where to begin. Online services such as CarFax and AutoCheck take care of things for a fee, or you can head to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s website or VehicleHistory.com for a free VIN search.
With any used automobile, it’s important to take the time for a thorough safety inspection. Take it to a mechanic you trust. Technicians can check the condition of tire treads, brakes, fluids and electronic components related to safety.
4. Upgrade to New Models With Lots of Airbags
Older adults may want to upgrade to a new car for airbag protection. Like many types of modern technology, airbags have gone through a lot of changes in recent years. Almost all new cars have a ton of airbags, including front airbags and side, knee and rollover airbags as well. Some SUVs come with airbag curtains.
5. Remember That Bigger Is Always Better for Safety
It’s not a myth that bigger cars offer more protection than smaller cars, says Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at the IIHS. “But you don’t have to buy a tank,” says Rader. He points out that the death rate for small SUVs is about half that of small cars for a simple reason: they weigh more.
“Our advice is to avoid small cars and comparison shop among vehicles with top safety ratings,” he says.
6. Avoid Having Too Many Distractions
A new car with too many bells and whistles might also have many distractions, which can be a safety hazard. Britton’s new Odyssey, for example, seats eight, includes a TV “behind my head” and a microphone to speak to people in the back, though the only thing back there is the mobility scooter. It also has a giant screen to the right of his shoulder, which includes “everything under the sun that you can think of.”
Britton admits that all of these amenities may be a bit much for someone of his generation.
Is your car on “The Safest Cars for Seniors” list? Will you be looking for a safer vehicle this year for yourself or a senior loved one? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.
1Griffith, B. (2015, April 6). Good Vehicles For Seniors and The Rest of Us. Retrieved from https://www.boston.com/cars/news-and-reviews/2015/04/06/good-vehicles-for-seniors-and-the-rest-of-us.
2Lyon, P. (2018, June 1). The Top 7 Car Safety Features You Cannot Do Without. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterlyon/2018/05/31/the-top-7-car-safety-features-you-cannot-do-without/#2aa6894b5fc0.
325 Cars With the Best Safety Features. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/cars-with-the-best-safety-features.
4Barry, K. (n.d.). Best Cars for Savvy Seniors. Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/elderly-driving/best-cars-for-every-life-stage-savvy-seniors/.
5Best Cars for Seniors: 9 Top Options for 2019. (2019, March 1). Retrieved from https://www.lendingtree.com/auto/best/cars-for-seniors/.
6Gorzelany, J. (2018, November 5). Here Are The Safest Used Cars And SUVs You Can Buy For $12,000 Or Less. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2018/11/05/here-are-the-safest-used-cars-you-can-buy-for-12000-or-less/#3e226b16195a.
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