March 19, 2019
senior woman

Does Your Car Need a Makeover?

by Berkeley Wellness  

A record number of older drivers (65 and over) are on the road these days, according to statistics from the Federal Highway Administration. They are generally considered safe drivers—especially compared to teens and young adults—but when they are in accidents, they are more vulnerable to injury and more likely to die from their injuries.

Are there things older drivers can do to improve their safety on the road? One possibility is for them to make greater use of assistance technologies increasingly found in cars—including collision and lane departure warning systems, blind-spot detection, rear-view cameras, adaptive cruise control, and night vision enhancement.

According to a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 57 percent of 2,990 older drivers had at least one advanced technology system in their main vehicle. Still, some of these new technologies—which can add information overload, distraction, and other complexities to driving—may be difficult to adapt to. In some cases, they may have unintended adverse consequences if not used right.

As part of the report, the AAA researchers also identified 12 simple, low-cost safety adaptations that seniors can make in their vehicles—yet nearly 90 percent of older drivers surveyed had not done so. Such adaptations can make driving easier as well as more comfortable and may extend the number of years seniors can be behind the wheel—an important consideration since older people who have to stop driving, due to such problems as arthritis, are at increased risk for social isolation and depression.

Among the possible modifications:

  • Steering wheel covers to improve grip in people with arthritic hands. Other steering wheel modifications make it easier to turn the wheel and allow for one-handed steering.
  • Driver seat cushions to help reduce back and hip pain and, since they allow you to sit higher, make it easier to see the road.
  • Convex or multifaceted mirrors to improve visibility and minimize blind spots.
  • Pedal extensions to allow short drivers to keep a safe distance (12 inches) from the airbag in the steering wheel.
  • Seat belt extensions to help older drivers with limited mobility fasten their seat belt.

Other modifications include upper-body supports, custom armrests, hand controls, push-button ignitions, left-foot accelerators, and adjustments that make for easier operation of wipers, horns, turn signals, cruise control, and headlights.

Along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Occupational Therapy Association, the AAA advises that older people with driving limitations work with a trained professional, such as an occupational therapist, to assess which devices would be most beneficial and for helpin installing them.

The AAA also provides advice on “Smart Features for Older Drivers” at Find the Right Vehicle for You, where older people can identify which built-in vehicle safety and ergonomic features they should look for when buying a new car. Note that this resource is helpful for people of all ages who have limitations that can affect driving, such as reduced vision, limited range of motion, short stature, or obesity.