Carmakers help put the brakes on aches

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You probably remember a time when driving was carefree and fun. But if getting behind the wheel today has become more pain than gain, it may be because of your aching body.

Fortunately, carmakers are adding features aimed at making driving easier for seniors and older boomers. Adults with limited range of motion in their upper body or with back, neck or shoulder pain often find that a car with adjustable lumbar support or large, wide-angle mirrors makes driving easier and safer. Adults with diminished vision or whose eyes recover slowly from glare can benefit from a high-contrast instrument panel, larger controls for air-conditioning, heat and audio components or something as simple as bigger, extendable sun visors.

AAA, in conjunction with the University of Florida's Institute for Mobility, Activity and Participation, last month released a list of 2013 car models that are best equipped for older drivers' safety and comfort. Cars were rated on whether they had available "smart features" for older drivers -- equipment that can help offset common problems caused by aging.

"A lot of people would be surprised about the items on here, and what they can help out with," says Robert Sinclair, a spokesman with Garden City-based AAA New York. To access the data, go to AAA's senior driving website -- seniordriving.aaa.com/smartfeatures or bit.ly/1aPhlyW -- and click on a physical problem you have -- for example, hip or leg pain. A box with several available features that can help make driving easier will be displayed. Select features you are interested in, and the website returns a list of suitable cars along with manufacturers' suggested retail prices and fuel economy.

While there are many options that can help older drivers, Sinclair notes that carmakers have loaded up some models with an abundance of superfluous technology that can be overwhelming. Sinclair, who is also the test drives editor for AAA New York's Car & Travel magazine, recently tested an Acura MDX pumped up with tech bells and whistles. "It had four different owner's manuals to cover the various features, and they totaled more than 1,000 pages," he says. "What senior citizen needs to concern themselves with that sort of stuff?"

To download the full list of models more friendly to mature drivers, go to bit.ly/aaa-smartlist. For a copy of a Smart Features for Older Drivers brochure, go to bit.ly/aaa-smartbrochure.

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