Many senior drivers don’t make vehicle adjustments that can improve safety

By: 
STAR STAFF

Nearly 90 percent of older drivers do not make inexpensive adaptations to their vehicles that can improve safety and extend their time behind the wheel, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Common vehicle adaptations like pedal extensions, seat cushions and steering wheel covers can help to improve safety by reducing a senior driver’s crash risk, according to an AAA Montana news release. Seniors 65 years of age and over are more than twice as likely as younger drivers to be killed when involved in a crash.

“While many seniors are considered to be safe drivers, they are also the most vulnerable,” said Michelle Donati, spokesperson for AAA Montana. “We urge seniors to consider making the necessary adaptations to their vehicles in order to reduce crash risk and extend the time they can continue to drive. Simple, inexpensive features can greatly improve their safety and the safety of those they share the road with.”

The research brief, “In-Vehicle Technologies, Vehicle Adaptations, and Older Drivers: Use, Learning, and Perceptions” is the first phase in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s groundbreaking Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project.

For this phase of the study, researchers investigated 12 vehicle adaptations and found that fewer than nine percent of senior drivers reported using any of the devices in their vehicles. Some of the inexpensive devices that can be purchased and put to use in new or existing vehicles are:

— Cushions and seat pads can improve line of sight and can help alleviate back or hip pain.

— Convex/ multifaceted mirrors can improve visibility and minimizes blind spots.

— Pedal extension can help drivers obtain a safe distance from the steering wheel/airbag and optimize visibility.

— Steering wheel covers can improve grip for drivers with arthritic hand joints.

— Hand controls can help the driver to perform all vehicle maneuvers and functions without the use of lower extremities.

Choosing the right features and working with a trained technician is imperative to safety behind the wheel. Of those drivers who have a device, almost 90 percent reported that they did not work with a trained professional to install the modification, a key recommendation by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). AAA urges drivers to consult with a trained technician to guide them in making adjustments to their vehicle.

Vehicle adaptions also benefit seniors’ mental health by extending their time on the road. Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that seniors who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times more likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who remain behind the wheel.

“Knowledge is power when it comes to extending time behind the wheel, and AAA is committed to providing seniors with the information they need to make sound decisions,” Donati said.

AAA is promoting the report in partnership with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to support Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. AAA and AOTA worked in collaboration with the American Society on Aging and AARP to develop CarFit to help senior drivers better utilize the features and technologies in their vehicles. AAA also offers the Smart Features for Older Drivers tool, which can help senior drivers identify in-expensive devices and vehicle features that optimize their comfort and safety.

 

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