10/28/2014 03:18 pm ET Updated Dec 28, 2014

Top Tech for Older Drivers

The auto industry is at a major turning point. Earlier this month, Elon Musk announced Tesla's new Model D. The car will be able to park itself in your garage and drive up to the door to meet you--the temperature and radio set just the way you like it. Cadillac has also announced it will launch its Super Cruise technology in the next two years. This technology will control a car's speed and keep it in the correct lane on a highway. Some driving technology like back up assist cameras will even become mandatory for new cars in the coming years.

Given all the new tech offerings, it's a good time to reference a recent study, conducted by AARP Driver Safety's partners at MIT Age Lab and The Hartford to determine the top technologies for drivers age 50 and older. The study looked at how well technologies meet the unique needs, concerns and priorities of experienced drivers. Recently when I was recently looking to purchase a new car, I referred to this list of the top 10 technologies as a guide. I encourage you to also look for the following systems when shopping for your own vehicle:

  1. Smart headlights adjust the range and intensity of light based on the distance of traffic to reduce glare and improve night vision. Like the majority of experienced drivers polled in a recent survey by AARP, I've noticed a change in my ability to see at night. I feel more comfortable driving on dark roads with the assistance of my new smart headlights.
  2. Emergency response systems offer quick assistance to drivers in the case of a medical emergency or collision, often allowing emergency personnel to get to the scene more quickly. Some systems also turn on interior lights, unlock doors and shut off fuel when airbags deploy.
  3. Reverse monitoring systems warn of objects to the rear of the vehicle to help drivers judge distances and back up safely. These tools are especially helpful for drivers with reduced flexibility who may have trouble turning their bodies around to see out of rearview mirrors properly. Additional research from The Hartford and MIT Age Lab have found that exercises like chest and shoulder expansions can help drivers maintain their flexibility.
  4. Blind spot warning systems alert drivers of objects in blind spots, especially while changing lanes and parking, and helps those with limited range of motion. My new vehicle has one of these blind spot warning systems and it allows me to look for blind spots without taking my eyes off the road. But you can also take steps to limit your vehicle's blind spots without these systems. Make sure your rearview mirror is properly adjusted by checking that you can see your entire rear window. You know your left and right mirrors are properly adjusted when you can barely see the left and right back of your vehicle as you look through the mirrors respectively.
  5. Lane departure systems monitor the vehicle's position and warn the driver if the vehicle deviates outside of its lane.
  6. Vehicle stability controls help reduce the likelihood of a crash by automatically bringing the vehicle back in the intended line of travel.
  7. Assistive parking systems may give the car the ability to park itself, without the need of the driver. Other systems indicate how close drivers are to a wall, curb or another car, and warn the driver if there are objects in the way of the vehicle while parking.
  8. Voice activated systems minimize distractions by allowing drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel when accessing features, such as the car's temperature, with their voices.
  9. Crash mitigation systems detect when the vehicle may be in danger of a collision and can help to minimize injuries to passengers by tightening a seat belt immediately before a crash and automatically applying the brakes.
  10. Drowsy driver alerts. Falling asleep at the wheel is an alarmingly common occurrence. According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 60% of adult drivers admit to having fallen asleep behind the wheel. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association reports that drowsy driving is responsible for over 100,000 crashes each year. However, new technology helps keep drivers awake by monitoring their inattentiveness and alerting them when they might be dozing off. I've seen this technology in action myself. Recently, a coffee cup icon appeared on my dashboard with a beeping alert, reminding me that I had been driving for 2 hours without a break. At the next rest stop, I pulled over and got out of my car to stretch my legs and take a break.

To watch demonstrations of how these technologies work and to learn more about them, visit AARP's Driving Resource Center.

As technology continues to evolve, we must not lose sight of the fact that the driver is still the most critical part of the driving experience. While new systems are intended to help reduce human error and make the driving experience easier and more enjoyable, it's critical that as drivers, we refresh our knowledge and skills. An AARP Smart Driver™ course can help you stay current with changes to technology and the driving experience. To find a course in your community, visit here.