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The Vehicle

Overview

This page provides support for buying a safe vehicle, the costs associated with owning and operating a vehicle, available safety features, and tips for operating special types of vehicles.

Note: Physical changes related to health, mobility and normal aging often require modifications to the way people drive, and often what they drive. It is important to consider your physical needs and limitations when selecting, operating and equipping your vehicle.

Buying a Safe Vehicle
Several resources are available to assist drivers with choosing a vehicle to fit their specific needs. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Automobile Association (AAA) publication, Purchasing with Safety in Mind provides safety features and rollover ratings for a wide range of vehicles, including passenger cars, SUVs and pickup trucks.
 
Note:
New cars sold in the U.S. come with all of the safety equipment required by law. However, this isn't always the case with used vehicles, especially those considered to be vintage.

Vehicle Costs
Have you ever stopped to consider how much owning and operating an automobile costs you? There is the initial purchase price (which depreciates substantially the minute you leave the car lot), insurance, maintenance, repairs, equipment replacement (tires) and fuel, which is becoming a greater burden on family budgets as prices continue to climb. Another consideration is the time wasted sitting in traffic.

Just think how much more pleasant it would be to let someone else drive through a traffic jam while you read a book, work on your computer or just day dream. Each year AAA conducts the study “Your Driving Costs.” In 2013, the study found the average cost for sedans to be $9,122 a year or 60.8 cents per mile.
 
The chart below shows cost estimates based on 15,000 miles of driving in a year:
 
Small
Sedan
Medium
Sedan
Large
Sedan
Sedan
Average
SUV/
4WD
Minivan
Cost/Mile
46.4¢
61¢
75¢
60.8¢
77.3¢
65.3¢
Cost/Year
$6,967
$9,151
$11,248
$9,122
$11,599
$9,795
 
Vehicle Safety Equipment
Safety Belts
The best defense in the event of a car crash is a safety belt. It can save your life and prevent severe injuries. All passenger vehicles sold and operated in the U.S. must be equipped with safety belts. Oregon law requires that all motor vehicle operators and passengers be properly secured with a safety belt or safety harness.

Airbags
Driver and passenger airbags protect front seat occupants in the event of a front-end collision. Side or “curtain” airbags offer protection in side impact collisions. A driver should position the seat at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel to maintain a safe distance from the airbag and to avoid injury if it deploys. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) provides a publication called About Your Airbags that contains more detailed information.

Head Restraints
Head restraints help prevent your head from being snapped in a rear-end collision. It is important that the head restraint protects the middle of your head but does not serve as a “resting” spot.

Anti-Lock Brakes
Anti-lock brakes work with a vehicle's normal brakes to decrease stopping distance and increase the control and stability of the vehicle during hard braking, especially on slippery and uneven road surfaces. Unlike conventional brakes that many 50+ drivers may be used to, anti-lock brakes should not be pumped but rather steady pressure applied. A computer automatically applies the correct pressure at the required intervals to bring the vehicle to an immediate stop.

Electronic Stability Control

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is a computerized technology that improves the safety of a vehicle's handling by detecting and preventing skids. When ESC detects loss of steering control, ESC automatically applies individual brakes to help "steer" the vehicle where the driver wants to go. Braking is automatically applied to individual wheels, such as the outer front wheel to counter over steer, or the inner rear wheel to counter under steer. Some ESC systems also reduce engine power until control is regained.

Adaptive Cruise Control
Adaptive cruise control (ACC) is an in-vehicle convenience feature designed to maintain a set speed and, when applicable, adjust the set speed to maintain a specified distance from another vehicle. 
 
Click here to view a copy of a study on “Use of Advanced In-Vehicle Technology by Young and Older Early Adopters: Survey Results on Adaptive Cruise Control Systems” conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Side Mirrors

When driving, it is important to have a good view of the front, side and rear of the vehicle. Vehicles equipped with side view mirrors on both sides of the car assist the driver in making lane changes.
 
Note: Refer to the Oregon Driver Manual for more information about mandatory, optional and restricted vehicle equipment.

Driving Other Vehicles
Motor Homes
Operating a motor home is similar to driving a passenger car or truck but involves more difficult driving circumstances, such as special maneuvering, reduced turning radius, height clearance, weight restrictions, limited parking options, impaired visibility and extended acceleration and breaking times. It also involves special safety considerations like propane usage and storage, vehicle and content weight, tires, towing, electrical system, fire prevention and fuel options. You may look in the yellow pages or on the internet to find a professional driving school that offers specialized training for motor homes.

Golf Carts

Golf carts are becoming a popular way for individuals to get around on and off the golf course, especially in gated subdivisions and retirement communities. While these carts do not travel at high speeds, they can be dangerous. 

When driving a golf cart, follow these simple rules:
  • Ensure that the brake is locked into place, then put the key in the ignition and turn it to the “on” position (most golf carts are electric so you may not hear it start).
  • Always assume that the cart is running when in the “on” position.
  • Apply the brake while putting the cart in gear to avoid lurching forward or backward (most carts have two gears; “F” for forward and “R” for reverse).
  • To move, gently press on the gas and release the brake until you hear the brake come out of the locked position (some carts start at their full horsepower so expect a jolt).
  • Slow down when making sharp turns because carts can topple over quite easily. 
  • Keep both hands on the steering wheel when making turns because power steering is not a standard feature.  
  • Engage the brake and remove the keys when the cart is not in use.
Note: You may at one point in your life no longer qualify for a driver license but still qualify for a disability golf cart permit that allows you to operate a golf cart, or similar device, on streets with a speed limit not higher than 25 mph.
 
Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices

Electric personal assistive mobility devices are power-assisted devices for mobility such as wheelchairs, scooters, and more recent innovations like the Segway™ Human Transporter. These devices make everyday life easier for individuals who are partially or completely immobile
 
You should follow the general rules of the road when using these devices on public roadways, just as you would if riding a bicycle. This means driving with traffic (in the same direction), wearing visible clothing during the day and reflective clothing at night, and making sure to hand signal if turning. When traveling on the device as a pedestrian, use sidewalks and crosswalks as you would if you were on foot.

Related Information
Additional information that may be relevant includes:
  • DMV provides information about Oregon Lemon Laws.
  • ODOT provides information about the OR tire chain law.
  • Oregon.gov provides information about tire chains and traction tires, and video instructions for putting on cable chains.
  • Safercar.gov is a Web site with information on safety ratings for vehicles, vehicle safety equipment, safety technology and child passenger safety.
  • The AARP Bulletin has published several articles on vehicle safety.
  • The DMV Staying Safe on the Road page provides information about improving the fit of your vehicle and the use of adaptive equipment to overcome physical limitations, while our vehicles index page provides all kinds of useful information related to the acquisition, ownership, operation, titling and registration of a motor vehicle in Oregon.
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) produces Status Reports on select topics including top vehicle safety picks. They also provide a consumer brochure and video entitled, Shopping For a Safer Car, which includes what to look for in your purchase.