Wolf Point Herald

Driving Can Sometimes Be Challenging For Older Adults

Simple Modifications To Your Vehicle Can Help Keep You “In The Driver’s Seat”


This question came to us from Patricia who stopped by our booth at the MEA-MFT conference in Bozeman last month:

Q: My dad recently passed away and now my siblings and I are worried about mom because dad did most of the driving.  Mom seems to be a bit hesitant to start driving again.  Are there any tips to help older drivers feel comfortable and safe behind the wheel?

A: Patricia, we are so sorry for your family’s loss.  Your concern for your mom is understandable.

It’s no secret our bodies change as we get older. Arthritis, spine compression and other physical changes that limit our range of motion can make the act of driving uncomfortable — and even unsafe — for some drivers. And the cars we drive can compound the problems: uncomfortable seating, minimal trunk space, low door frames and other spatial problems can make driving a challenge for anyone with physical ailments.

But before you head out to the car dealership, you should know there are a number of resources and tools available to help drivers adapt their own vehicles to improve their comfort and safety behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends a five-step process to ensure you can continue to drive safely.

1. Evaluate your needs. One simple way to evaluate your needs is to consult a driver-rehabilitation specialist, who can tell you whether your vehicle is compatible with your individual challenges. He or she can also help you start researching the types of adaptive driving equipment you might need and the price range you can expect, and can sometimes help you find public or private financial aid. To find a driver-rehabilitation specialist, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association’s “Find a Driving Specialist” tool at www.aota.org.

2. Make sure your vehicle “fits” you properly. Are your mirrors positioned to minimize blind spots? Are you wearing your seat belt correctly? Is your seat too close to the steering wheel? To help you answer some of these questions, you might want to log onto the CarFit website. CarFit is a free educational program developed in collaboration with AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). There are a number of educational resources available including a CarFit guide (under the FAQ link) and several “how-to” instructional videos.  Learn more at www.car-fit.org.

3. Choose appropriate features. In addition to adjusting your “fit” within your vehicle, there are a number of add-on accessories that can help improve your driving experience. “Vehicles can be enhanced to seamlessly ease your entry and exit without bending, twisting, turning, lowering and plopping into the seat, then agonizing your legs into the driving position or passenger seat,” says Carole Di Tosti, PhD, of The Mobility Resource. “Vehicles can be outfitted with grab bars and special seats that reduce the stress on your spine and neck getting into a vehicle. The controls – brakes, steering wheel, drive shift and more – can be tailored so you’re not cramped up in one position.” A driver rehabilitation specialist can recommend adaptive equipment that suits your physical needs.

4. Install and know how to use adaptive devices. As with any new vehicle technology, it is critical the driver understand how to install and safely operate their adaptive devices. Your driver-rehabilitation specialist should be able to refer you to a qualified “mobility dealer,” where licensed professionals will help install adaptive equipment and show you how to operate your new devices safely.

5. Practice good vehicle maintenance. In some cases, your equipment may need regular maintenance to keep it running smoothly. Check the user manual or ask your mobility dealer how often each adaptation needs to be assessed or updated.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking a driver improvement course, such as the AARP Driver Safety course. In Montana you are eligible for a discount on your insurance upon completion of the course.

For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 888-AARP-NOW (888-227-7669).