It is essential at any age, but particularly important for older adults, to operate a motor vehicle that is right for them and fits their needs. As drivers get 65 years and older, they become more susceptible to
injuries or death when involved in a car crash. Physical changes related to normal aging may require modifications to the way older adults drive. These changes may also prompt modifications to vehicles or
changes in the type of vehicle driven to accommodate for comfort and decreased flexibility. Flexibility changes, changes in vision, strength, range of motion and height may affect an individual’s visual field or
ability to scan the driving environment. Being able to optimize the drivers’ ability to visualize the road and to see other vehicles surrounding them is a critical factor in safety on the road.
In order for drivers to operate a vehicle in the safest manner possible, it is important that the driver position himself/herself properly and comfortably. There are a variety of pieces of adaptive equipment or modification
items that can have a dramatic effect on safety and comfort. Examples include pedal extenders, panoramic mirrors, hand controls, seat lifts, or steering devices. New and existing adaptive technologies continue to
broaden opportunities for older drivers so that they can enjoy the freedom of driving for as long as possible.
Older adults may not notice the normal slow changes that occur with age. Thus, for individual without a major medical condition like a stroke, the CarFit program is ideal. The CarFit educational program,
focuses on helping older drivers determine how well their personal vehicle “fit” them, and also provides information and material to enhance their safety. This program may be particularly helpful when
someone is thinking about purchases or leases a new vehicle. During Carfit events, Carfit Technicians will assess your vehicle at the event to find out how well drivers currently fit in their personal vehicle.
They also highlight actions drivers can take to improve their fit.
For those drivers with a medical condition that may affect safe driving, seeking the skills of an occupational therapist with specialization in driving rehabilitation may be helpful. The driver
rehabilitation specialist performs a comprehensive evaluation to identify the adaptive equipment best suited to a person’s need. Rehabilitation specialists will also take into consideration future equipment
needs based on his/her experience with varying medical conditions. After the evaluation, the driver is given a report containing specific recommendations on driving requirements or restrictions.
This evaluation offers older driver information to assist them and others to select the right vehicle to “fit” their needs. When purchasing or leasing a vehicle, a mobility equipment dealer and driver
rehabilitation specialist are qualified to ensure the vehicle you select can be modified to meet your adaptive equipment needs.
When selecting a vehicle, the answers to some of the following questions can narrow your search for the right vehicle.
- When the vehicle is parked, is there adequate space to maneuver, if I need to use a walker?
- Does the vehicle have the cargo capacity to accommodate the equipment I require?
- Will there be enough space and cargo capacity to accommodate my family or other passengers once the vehicle is modified?
- Is there adequate parking space at home and/or at work for my vehicle and for loading/unloading a wheelchair?
To help assist with buying a safe vehicle that is right for you, there are national and local programs and organizations that can steer you in the right directions.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed a SaferCar app that gives consumers immediate access to key safety information to help them make information decisions. You can learn more at Safecar.gov.
- The US Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Roadway Safety Foundation, created a clearinghouse for older drivers, Clearinghouse for Older Road User Safety (CHORUS), to assist with more information about what is being offered in new cars to promote safety. Visit https://www.roadsafeseniors.org/resources/safer-vehicles for more information.
- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is an independent, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses (fatalities, injuries, and property damage) from crashes on the nation’s highways. You can find information on the safety rating for particular vehicles and models on their website at http://www.iihs.org/.
- Carfit is an educational program focused on helping older drivers determine how well their personal vehicle “fit” them, and also provides information and material to enhance the safety of older drivers and increase the ability of older adults to be mobile in their communities. To find upcoming events in your area visit CarFit website.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. www.nhtsa.gov
Safe Mobility for Life Coalition. www.safeandmobileseniors.org