I have some concerns about my mom's driving safety. She just turned 80 and is still in good health but she's shrunk some over the years and can barely see over the steering wheel, and she's also very stiff and has a difficult time looking back over her shoulder. Any suggestions to help keep her safe?
It sounds like your mom could benefit from the CarFit assessment program, a new service created by the American Society on Aging, AAA, the American Occupational Therapy Association and AARP that can help keep older drivers safe and driving longer. Here's what you should know.
As we age, changes in our vision, flexibility, strength, range of motion and even size and height make driving more challenging. One thing older drivers can do to adapt to these changes is to make their vehicle fit better. CarFit is a new assessment program that can help by providing a free, comprehensive check of how well an older driver and a vehicle work together. The assessment (done by a trained professional) takes about 15 minutes, and provides drivers with a list of recommended car adjustments, adaptive devices and local resources that can help ensure their driving safety. Here are some of the key CarFit questions that can help determine if your mom and her vehicle are a good fit.
+ Does she have a clear line of sight (at least three inches) over the steering wheel?
+ Does she have plenty of room between her chest and the steering wheel? The ideal distance is at least 10 to 12 inches. This helps reduce injuries if the airbag deploys in an accident.
+ Does her seat fit her comfortably and safely? She should be able to adjust the seat easily for good visibility and safe access to controls.
+ Can she adjust her headrests properly? The center of the headrest should be against the back of her head, not against her neck. This helps prevent neck injury.
+ Can she easily access the gas and brake pedals? She should be able to reach the pedals without having to stretch too far, and she should be able to completely depress the brake pedal. She should also be able to move her foot easily from the gas to the brake.
+ Does her seat belt hold her in the proper position and remain comfortable as she drives? The lower part of the belt should go across her hips, and the shoulder harness should go across her rib cage and not be under her arm. She also should be able to reach the shoulder harness and buckle and unbuckle the seat belt without difficulty.
+ Can she get into and out of her vehicle easily?
+ Does she know how to adjust mirrors properly or have the flexibility to use mirrors?
For more information on CarFit, or to find an assessment event in your area, visit www.asaging.org/carfit or contact your state AARP office (call 888-687-2277 to get the number) or your local AAA (www.aaa.com) office.
If you don't find a CarFit event in your area, there are various other resources that can help in evaluating and aiding older drivers. Check with:
+ AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: They have two Web sites that contain materials for older drivers. Visit www.aaafoundation.org and click on "Products" then "Free Materials" for a variety of free publications. Visit www.seniordrivers.org and click on "Roadwise Review" for information about obtaining this CD-ROM and self-test (it costs about $15) or contact your local AAA office.
+ AARP: Offers a Driver Safety Program specially designed for older drivers. To learn more or find a class near you, call 888-227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org/drive. The course is also available online.
+ American Occupational Therapy Association: Provides a nationwide list of driver rehabilitation specialists who give thorough driver evaluations. Visit www.aota.org/olderdriver or call 888-232- 1184.
+ The Hartford Financial Services Group: Offers a free brochure "Family Conversations with Older Drivers". Visit www.thehartford.com/talkwitholderdrivers.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the "NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.
The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.