"CarFit": Choosing the Right Vehicle
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"CarFit": Does Your Car Fit You And Do You Fit Your Car?
Change Your Vehicle for Safer Driving
CarFit is an educational program created by the American Society on Aging. The program was developed together with the AAA, the AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association.
CarFit can help older adults determine how well their personal vehicles "fit" them.
CarFit also provides information and materials about resources that can:
- enhance the safety of older adults as drivers, and/or
- increase the ability of older adults to be mobile in their communities.
Compared with drivers in other age groups, older adults can be safer drivers, while also being at more risk. Older drivers normally wear their seat belts, and are less likely to speed or to drink and drive. At the same time, an older driver is also more likely to be killed or severely injured when a crash occurs. As the human body becomes older, it becomes more fragile and subject to more significant injuries.
Driver safety programs can improve the safety of older adults through improvements in their physical and mental skills. Older drivers can also improve their safety if they ensure that their cars are correctly adjusted to them. The correct "CarFit" can improve the safety of passengers just as it improves the safety of the driver.
The CarFit program is designed to help an older driver to:
- determine how well they currently fit their personal vehicle,
- highlight actions the older driver can take to improve the fit, and
- promote communication about driver safety and the ability to be mobile in the community.
At a CarFit event, trained technicians and/or health professionals work with each driver to ensure the driver correctly fits their vehicle. The program covers 12 areas of the correct fit of the vehicle to the driver to help make sure the driver is both as comfortable and as safe as possible.
A CarFit check takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.
Here are three examples of how CarFit can improve safety for the driver in three areas:
- Correct adjustment of the rearview mirrors can greatly reduce "blind spots" and improve the safety of traffic lane changes.
- A good position of the foot of the driver on the gas and brake pedals is important. If the driver must reach for the pedals it can cause fatigue in the leg and slow the reaction time of the driver.
- The correct distance of the driver from the steering wheel is also important. Injuries in a crash can be more severe if a driver sits less than 10 inches from the steering wheel.
CarFit was first tested in 10 cities, and more than 300 older drivers participated in the tests. The results from checklists completed at the events and surveys of the older drivers after the events show that:
- More than one-third (37%) of the drivers had at least one very important safety issue that needed to be corrected.
- One in ten of the drivers (10%) were too close to the steering wheel when driving.
- Approximately 20% of the drivers did not have a line of sight at least 3" over the steering wheel, which is necessary for safe driving.
Most of the drivers who responded to the survey indicated that, because of the CarFit event, they:
- made a change to improve the fit of their vehicle, or their use of safety features in their vehicle and/or
- were more likely discuss their driving with family and/or health care providers.
During a CarFit session, you will learn that:
- You need to be able to see at least three inches above the steering wheel for a clear line of sight.
- For the best protection in a crash, you need at least 10 to 12 inches of distance between your breastbone and the steering wheel and driver airbag.
- To be safe in your seat, you must be comfortable in your seat. Make sure you can adjust the seat easily for a good line of sight and for easy and safe access to controls.
- To help prevent neck injuries, adjust your headrests to the correct position. Position the center of the headrest against the back of your head, not against your neck.
- Make sure you can use both the gas and brake pedals without the need to stretch or reach with your leg and foot. Make sure you can easily move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal. Make sure you can push the brake pedal down all the way from your driving position.
- Make sure your seat belt holds you in the correct position and remains comfortable as you drive. The lap seat belt needs to lie across your hips, not your abdomen. The shoulder harness needs to lie over your rib cage, and not be under your arm. Make sure you can easily reach the shoulder harness to fasten your seat belt. Also make sure you can easily release your seat belt.
- Make sure you can easily get into and get out of your vehicle.
- Make sure you can turn your head and look over your shoulder when you change traffic lanes.
- Make sure that your position in the seat is as comfortable as possible. Adjust the seat position so there is no discomfort or pain in your knees, back, hips, neck or shoulders.
- Adjust the mirrors to the correct position to remove blind spots (see the next section). Make sure you can easily adjust the mirrors from your driving position.
Blind spots are areas on both sides of your vehicle where other vehicles or objects are not visible in your rearview mirrors. The mirror positions normally used by most motorists do not remove the blind spots. You can make some easy adjustments to your mirrors to minimize blind spots. Make the following adjustments:
- Adjust the center mirror so you can see as much of the rear window as possible.
- With your head against the side window, adjust the left side mirror so you can just see the left side of your vehicle.
- With your head tilted to the right, above the center console, adjust the right mirror so you can just see the right side of your vehicle.
Make these adjustments and use all three mirrors and you can have a complete view of a vehicle that comes from behind and passes you. Before you drive using the new mirror positions, practice to get used to the new view. With the car safely parked, practice looking for objects that are to the side and behind you. Make any necessary small adjustments to the mirrors to get the most complete view possible.
Mirror positions help you assess traffic around you. However, mirrors do not replace the need to use your head, neck and eyes to check for traffic. You must turn your head and neck and look over your left shoulder to see for traffic on the side. Make sure the lane is clear before you change traffic lanes.
Safety Tips about Your Vehicle
A vehicle that fits you and that also has the correct equipment can help improve your driving safety. When you shop for a replacement vehicle consider the following equipment:
- An automatic transmission.
- Power brakes and power steering.
- A gear selector that clearly displays the selected gear. The gear is best displayed on the on the instrument panel.
- If the gear selector is on the console, a selector button that is easy to push in and to release.
- Adjustable pedals. Some newer vehicles have adjustable pedals, and adjustable pedals will become more common. Pedal extenders and pedal blocks can also improve fit. All of these devices can help you get the necessary distance between the driver and the steering wheel without the need for the drivers to stretch their leg and foot.
- Powered seat adjustment. Power seats can allow for an increased range of adjustments compared with seats that are not powered. The increased adjustments can result in a better fit. Seat cushions, pads or a different seat can also help.
- Special equipment can help a driver with a disability get a better fit. Here are some examples:
- Seat belt adapters to make seat belts easier to reach and to improve how the seat belts fit. Adapters can also make it easier to release the seat belt. Special torso restraints can help the driver to keep the correct vertical position in the seat.
- Full-view inside mirrors and side "spot" mirrors to reduce blind spots.
- A steering wheel spinner or other turn assistance equipment can assist drivers who have the use of only one arm. Special power steering that reduces the effort required to steer is also available.
- Directional signals that can be operated from the other side of the steering column or by foot.
- Turn signals that make louder "clicks" when activated or turn signal indicators that are brighter and/or located where they are easier to see.
- A gas pedal for the left foot for a driver with limited or no use of the right foot.
- Vehicle controls that are voice-activated or activated by a touch pad and joystick controls for the steering, gas and brake.
- Devices to load a wheelchair or scooter and transfer assist devices to help a person get into and out of vehicle.
- Keyless ignition and keyless door locks.
For your vehicle to be safe, the vehicle and its equipment also must be in good mechanical condition. Important vehicle condition items include:
- tires that are inflated to the correct pressure.
- brakes, brake lights, steering, directional signals, and windshield wipers that perform their functions as designed.
To keep your vehicle in safe condition it is important to have equipment safety checks and test driving done on a standard schedule.
Another key to keep your vehicle safe is to have a reliable automotive technician or dealer service manager who knows your vehicle. Ask your friends and family for the names of reliable technicians. You can also do research on local facilities and technicians on the Internet.
You can check online for a CarFit event and register for an event in New York State.
The AAA web site has helpful information about "Smart Features for Mature Drivers" .