Fall 2009 Auto Guide
auto
10 top cars for older drivers

Older drivers face many unique challenges, starting with the problem of simply getting in and out of a car and adjusting the driver's seat once they get there.

Those may sound like trivial criteria in choosing a particular car -- as opposed to more typical concerns like horsepower or gas mileage -- but air bags make the proper seating position a matter of life and death.

Drivers sitting too close to the steering wheel-mounted air bag can be injured or even killed if the air bag goes off in a collision, according to the American Automobile Association, or AAA. It recommends sitting at least 10 inches away from the air bag.

Some shorter drivers -- a category that includes many women as well as older drivers -- have a problem doing that because they can't reach the pedals if they sit that far away from the steering wheel. A growing number of cars have power-adjustable pedals for that reason.

Catering to older drivers is important. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there will be more than 40 million U.S. drivers age 65 and older by 2020, up from 29 million in 2005.

Accordingly, the AAA, working with the University of Florida's National Older Driver Research and Training Center, has come up with a list of "Smart Features for Mature Drivers."

Many of those features focus on easy access and to the ability to adjust the seats, mirrors, and the gas and brake pedals.

Crossover vehicles, which are higher than most cars but lower than most SUVs, score well on the AAA list because it's easier for older drivers to slip in and out of the driver's seat without having to climb a stepladder or lower themselves into a hole.

The AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association also co-sponsor a program called CarFit, which coaches older drivers how to adjust their seating position.

Eager to avoid being labeled an "old person's car," the car companies stress that features that make cars attractive to older people -- like buttons and controls that are easy to reach, simple and legible -- are attractive for everyone.

Here are our picks of 10 of the best cars when it comes to having features that appeal to older drivers:

10 best cars for older drivers
1.BMW 7 Series6.Hyundai Veracruz
2.Cadillac SRX7.Mercedes-Benz E-Class
3.Chrysler 3008.Nissan Cube
4.Ford Taurus9.Toyota RAV-4
5.Honda Odyssey10.Volvo XC60

BMW 7 Series

Body style: Sedan
Starting price: $81,125
Feature for older drivers: Night Vision

Night vision is consistently one of the first problem areas for aging drivers, according to traffic safety experts. BMW offers a high-tech night vision system on some of its upscale models that can see in the dark using an infrared camera that detects and displays warm objects like pedestrians or deer. The BMW system is a $2,600 option on the 750i and 750Li sedans.

Cadillac SRX

Body style: Crossover
Starting price: $41,235
Feature for older drivers: Easy access

The 2010 Cadillac SRX is a redesigned model. The AAA says crossovers are good for older drivers because the easiest seat height for them is around hip level. Like other crossovers, the SRX is built on a car-like platform that's welded into a single piece. A traditional truck consists of a body bolted on a ladder-like frame. It's sturdier, but rides rougher. The SRX also comes with GM's OnStar system that automatically notifies emergency workers if an air bag goes off in an accident.

Chrysler 300

Body style: Sedan
Starting price: $27,665
Feature for older drivers: Power-adjustable pedals

The Chrysler 300 has nearly all the "Smart Features for Mature Drivers" recommended by the AAA, including power-adjustable pedals as an option on the entry-level model, which are standard on better-equipped versions. Adjustable pedals and a telescoping steering wheel can prevent injuries, by keeping a shorter driver from sitting too close to the air bag in the steering-wheel hub.

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