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'Silver car' rating system could protect older drivers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering a new safety rating system that would focus on older drivers. As the U.S. population continues to age and older people continue to drive, the NHTSA thinks it could be very beneficial to specifically study new vehicles and the safety they provide for older drivers.

The new safety test rating system would be labeled as the "silver car" rating system in the New Car Assessment Program run by the NHTSA. This rating system would focus on how safety crash tests would impact older drivers and give new vehicles a specific "silver car" rating for older drivers to consider when buying a car. Safety advocates believe the new rating system could significantly help older consumers buy safer cars and avoid serious injuries in car accidents.

Some ways vehicle manufacturers may try to make their vehicle more appealing to older drivers is to focus on safety issues like seat belt design and air bags. The AAA said there are specific issues that could be addressed for older drivers, such as making thicker, easier to grab steering wheels for drivers with arthritis. It would also be beneficial to have adjustable brake and gas pedals for shorter elderly drivers.

While adding a new safety rating system for vehicles is supported by many organizations, the AAA said that some seniors may not like being targeted and may not want to drive a car that is stereotyped as a car for only old people.

Not every older driver is going to be interested in buying a car specifically designed for older people but since older drivers continue to have the highest fatality rate in car accidents in the U.S., safety advocates believe that many older people would like having the "silver car" rating to see how safe a vehicle is.

The NHTSA is waiting for comments from the public about the new safety rating before they make any changes to their New Car Assessment Program and vehicle crash tests.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Crash safety rating system proposed for rising tsunami of older drivers," Ronald D. White, April 4, 2013

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