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Senior Driver Checklist

Important Safety Reminders for Senior Drivers

With the exception of teenagers, the growing driver demographic of aging Americans have the highest crash death rates per mile driven, according to recent highway safety research.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show increased crash numbers for the more than 28 million U.S. drivers over 65 years old. Additionally, that demographic is expected to grow, with an estimated 40 million drivers over the age of 65 on the roads by 2020.

According to Robert Darbelnet, AAA president and CEO, though most older drivers have safe driving practices, they do injure easily when accidents occur.

“Although seniors are often the safest drivers in that they are more likely to wear their seatbelts and less likely to speed or drink and drive, age-related fragility makes them more likely to be injured when a crash does occur,” Darbelnet said. “Older Americans need to take extra care to ensure that their cars are properly adjusted for them.”

To help educate drivers and combat the risk of accident and injury, America’s leading senior citizen health and advocacy organizations have created the first in-car safety program to ensure a senior’s proper fit inside vehicles. Instated by the American Society on Aging, in collaboration with AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), the CarFit program was designed to ensure older drivers properly adjusted their vehicles' settings, which could reduce rates of senior crashes and related injuries or deaths.

According to officials, the program uses information found through more than two years of research and development. A recent pilot evaluation by the program found that more than 33 percent of senior drivers have had at least one safety or driving-related concern they needed help addressing.

To help combat these problems, the CarFit program offers a 12-point checklist for older drivers, helping ensure they are seated properly in their vehicle with the driver’s seat, seat belt, mirrors, steering wheel, head rest, gas/brake pedals and other controls are positioned properly.

Each CarFit evaluation takes only 15 minutes and checks drivers based on the following criteria:

1. Safety belt use
2. Steering wheel tilt
3. Head restraint setting
4. Air bag positioning
5. Line of sight over steering wheel
6. Gas pedal positioning
7. Brake pedal positioning
8. Mirror adjustment
9. Neck Mobility
10. Parking brake operation
11. Ignition key operation
12. Vehicle control operation

While many driver safety programs are directed toward improving cognitive abilities and skills, CarFit is the first program that works with older drivers to determines proper fit inside a vehicle. According to Darbelnet, the program hits on a safety issue that has been previously ignored.

“It is a fact of life that our bodies become frailer as we get older and an ill-fitting car can make travel both uncomfortable and unsafe,” he said.

A trial version of the program was administered in 2006, with more than 300 drivers participating. Results from the trial show that 37 percent of senior drivers had at least one safety issue. Ten percent of drivers did not have the right spacing between their steering wheel and chest, while almost 20 percent of drivers didn't have a clear line of sight over their steering wheel.

To learn more about CarFit program and its trial results, visit AAA.