Dear Car Talk:
You recently answered a question from another 83-year-old woman who asked about upgrading her car for a newer Subaru with more safety features. I just want to second your advice. I took your suggestion and bought a new car with such features, and I love it! I feel much safer now. Thanks.
Aw, c'mon Barbara. I know you just wanted that 28-speaker stereo!
This is actually a pretty good time to be a senior without a car. You no longer have to be isolated or stranded. Now you can summon a Lyft, instantly, on your iPhone, and get picked up and dropped off anywhere you want. And in a decade or so, cars probably will be capable of driving themselves, so we won't even need luxuries like vision, hearing and reflexes.
But for those who still count on their cars and like to be able to drive themselves around, there are (early self-driving) technologies that are worth upgrading to now. We particularly recommend cars with city- and highway-speed automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist. Those can be lifesavers. And then there are the mere fender savers, like rear cross-traffic alert and audible parking sensors.
And while these technologies are great for everybody, they're particularly helpful for older drivers, whose reflexes may have slowed down a bit. Automatic emergency braking, in particular, is awesome. If you don't notice that a car in front of you has slowed or stopped, you'll get an audible warning. If you don't react and hit the brakes yourself, the car will then hit the brakes for you in order to prevent or lessen the severity of an accident. It's pretty amazing.
What usually happens with older drivers is that at some point, there's an "incident." You don't notice a stopped car, or you lose all common sense and try to brave a Trader Joe's parking lot on a Saturday morning, and bang -- there's an accident. At that point, the kids gang up and decide it's time to confiscate your Mercedes S-Class, and you lose a big piece of your independence.
Well, these safety features can often delay that day of reckoning by helping you avoid certain accidents. Not every accident, but a lot of common ones. So why not take advantage of them if you can? Everybody should, but especially those whose lives and routines could be permanently disrupted by one unfortunate accident.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety maintains a pretty good list of cars that have the most up-to-date safety equipment. You can find the 2018 picks at http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/TSP-List. Look for cars with TSP-Plus ratings (Top Safety Pick Plus).
And if you actually go out to buy one of those cars, be sure to carefully check the equipment on the exact car you purchase, since many of these features are optional still.
So, some cars on the lot will have the good stuff, and some identical-looking cars won't. Triple-check -- or better yet, bring a grandson who plays linebacker with you to deal with the salesman.
And Barbara, we hope these technologies get you safely through the next decade, when you can write back and I'll recommend a self-driving car for you.