Could flying cars be in our future, a la “The Jetsons?”

Not quite yet, but advances in technology mean today’s new cars are safer, more reliable and fun to drive.

Mike Taylor sells cars for AAA in downtown Portland and says many adults 50+ are responsible drivers who put safety first. He sees them frequently trading in 10-year-old cars in perfect condition in favor of models with today’s advanced safety features. As we age our reflexes slow so having a car with the latest safety devices is money well spent.

“Our over-50 buyers are responsible consumers who put safety first,” says Taylor. “They are much less likely to use their cell phone while driving or reflexively responding to every message alert. They are attentive. They like big screens and dashboards, and a car that slows if they’re too close to the car in front of them. They also like back-up cameras and blind-spot monitors, which are mostly standard now.”

New cars have more safety and comfort features than ever before. And while we may not see flying cars soon (although several companies have prototypes), auto technology will advance more in the next five years than in the past 50 — all for the better, Taylor says.

Engineers are working off radar to create technology heretofore only seen in films and old comic books, such the ability to fly or communicate with the driver. Upscale makes such as Audi, Porsche and Tesla now have night vision, 360-degree cameras and self-parking. The model of the future? The plug-in hybrid, Taylor says.

When looking to buy, do your research. Ask about safety and comfort features, fuel efficiency, and environmental impact. Get a demo on operating unfamiliar technology, read the manual and watch videos.

Reduced maintenance is another feature of new cars. Oil changes are needed only once a year, and tune-ups might not even be necessary. Taylor says modern cars diagnose themselves and even anticipate future problems. Because the new computerized systems can be expensive to replace, a well-researched extended service warranty is a good idea.

While some may feel there’s a huge learning curve in operating more advanced autos, “New tech won’t be a challenge for our grandchildren,” says Rob Reichen, owner of Portland Precision Body and Paint and board member of Northwest Auto Makers Trade Association. “For our age, the learning curve can be a challenge,” he says. “New cars can be turned off and on from home and headlights adjust to the atmosphere. At the push of a button, more exotic or European cars adjust the seat, radio, mirror and steering wheel to whomever is driving based on height and preferences. A driver can tell the car to take him or her to a destination while enjoying a morning bowl of oatmeal.”

Even with all that support, nothing replaces an alert driver; human distractions are still the cause of many rear-end collisions, says Marie Dodd, AAA Public Affairs Director. While safety features are valuable, nothing replaces hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

Still, engineers are diligently working on models for autonomous cars. While their arrival is inevitable, there are still challenges to be overcome. Reichen says before they can become a reality, mass-produced self-driving cars require new road infrastructure and satellites. Auto manufacturers are seeking solutions for potential problems such as enemy forces jamming satellites. Other concerns include a car’s ability to detect white lines on the road in snow or emerging from a tunnel into multiple lanes or potholes. These vehicles will need to communicate with a transportation system, and that requires a large influx of cash and well-marked roads.

Even cars with 360-degree cameras have some flaws, Taylor says. They cannot detect scooters, bikers, skateboarders or curved corners. “Right now, I see it more as a marketing tool,” he says. “We sacrifice some visibility using cameras, especially in rear windows.” Changes he’d like to see include higher seats for better visibility, improved sound suppression and larger windows.

Taylor would also like to see all-wheel drive being the standard, and stricter laws against phone use while driving. Eventually there will be no such thing as pushing to start a stalled car or relying on that stick-shift that gave such a sense of power over your car.

On to the future.

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