Cars and Seniors: How to Find the Best Fit
Driving and independence are closely linked. Being able to get in to your car and drive yourself to a physician appointment, family party or Sunday religious services helps us stay connected.
While age is not the sole determinant in deciding whether or not a driver is safe behind the wheel, aging does create undeniable physical changes.
Aging and Older Driver Safety
Older drivers are at higher risk for injury or illness when they climb behind the wheel of a car. What is interesting, however, is senior drivers are six times more likely to cause harm to themselves than others. That statistic busts the myth that senior drivers cause more accidents than younger ones.
Chronic health conditions like diabetes or osteoporosis contribute to the challenges older drivers face while driving. These challenges include:
- Reduced range of motion skills
- Loss of flexibility
- Vision loss and/or vision impairment
- Hearing loss
- Slower reflexes
- Medication side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness
Despite what you’ve heard, seniors can be some of the safest drivers on the road for many reasons including:
- Older drivers tend to be more compliant about wearing their seatbelts
- Seniors are less likely to drink and drive
- Our oldest drivers are the ones who tend to obey speed limit laws
One way you can stay safe or help a senior loved one stay safe behind the wheel is to find the right car.
What to Consider in a Car for an Older Driver
Car manufacturers are finally developing safety systems that make some vehicles safer for older drivers. A few features to look for when you are trying to find a safe car for an older driver include:
- Air bag safety: Can the steering wheel be adjusted to minimize the risk of serious injury if the air bag deploys? Older drivers are often smaller than younger drivers and more likely to sit closer to the steering wheel.
- Seat belt: Where is the seat belt restraint located? Is it easy to reach for an older driver who might be less flexible?
- Blind spots: Some cars have bigger blind spots than others. For an older driver who might not have good range of motion, blind spots in a car can be especially dangerous.
- Pedal location: Does the position of the gas and brake pedals work well for an older driver? Pedals located too close together might mean the senior driver is more likely to accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake.
- Size and adjustability of mirrors: Are the side mirrors and rear view mirror easily adjustable? Are they big enough to allow the senior to get an accurate picture of what is around them?
Helping Senior Drivers Find the Right Car
Fortunately, there are a variety of agencies that have developed programs to help match older drivers with a car that is a good fit for their strengths and limitations.
- Car Fit: This program utilizes a 12-point checklist to evaluate how safe a vehicle is for a senior driver. Trained volunteers assume the role of Car Fit Technicians. They help to identify adjustments that might need to be made to steering wheels, seat belts, mirrors and more. Their free evaluation typically takes less than 30 minutes. The older driver also meets with a Car Fit Driving Specialist who inspects their car for any issues that were identified during the evaluation. While they may make recommendations for adaptive equipment at Car Fit events, no products are actually sold there.
- AOTA Driving Specialist: Another avenue to explore is the American Occupational Therapists Association. They specialize in limiting risks for senior drivers. Occupational therapists help assess an older driver’s strengths and weaknesses, make recommendations to overcome them, and help install adaptive equipment. They make use of devices such as pedal extenders and swivel seats.
- Association for Driving Rehabilitation Specialists: This is another organization that can help older drivers. They assist with locating driving specialists and car dealers who work with seniors to modify vehicles to accommodate physical impairments and mobility issues.
Exercises for Older Driver Safety is a free guide you can download. This resource shares exercises designed to improve an older adult’s driving fitness skills.
Era Living Transportation Services
If you or a senior in your family would rather have somebody else do the driving, a senior living community might be a solution. Era Living communities throughout the greater Seattle area offer transportation services for residents. Please call the Era Living community nearest you to learn more.