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Staying Safe on the Roadway

Overview

It is essential at any age, but particularly important for individuals age 50 and above to operate a motor vehicle that “fits” them. As people age, they become more susceptible to injuries or death related to a crash event. Physical changes related to normal aging often requires modifications to the way people drive. Optimizing the drivers’ ability to visualize the road and to see other vehicles surrounding them is a critical factor in safety on the road. The ability to operate the vehicle itself in the safest manner possible requires that the driver and occupants be positioned within the vehicle properly.
 
This page provides tips and resources to help age 50+ drivers improve the safety and operability of their vehicle.

Improve the Fit of Your Vehicle
Carfit® is a community-based program developed by the AARP, AAA, and the American Occupational Therapy Association to help older drivers improve the “fit” of their vehicle for their safety and comfort, promote conversations among older adults and their families about driving safety and link adults with relevant local resources to help them drive safer longer. The program involves a “checkup” where trained volunteers look at 12 items including the following:
  • Clear line of sight over the steering wheel
  • Adequate distance from the front airbag
  • Proper positioning of seat and mirrors
  • Ability to use the foot pedals
  • Proper safety belt use and fit

Click here for more information about the program and a list of CarFit events.  

Smart Features for Older Drivers

Only one in 10 older adults is driving a car that meets their needs, according to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. With nearly 90 percent of motorists 65 and older suffering from health issues that affect driving safety, finding a car that adapts to conditions, such as lack of flexibility or muscle strength, while maintaining safety and comfort can be difficult. Data from the AAA survey also reveals that only one in 10 senior drivers with chronic, age-related health issues is driving a vehicle that has features like keyless entry and larger dashboard controls that can assist with such conditions. To better equip the "silver tsunami" for driving safety and comfort, AAA recommends the following vehicle features to address specific health conditions:

  • Drivers suffering from hip or leg pain, decreased leg strength or limited range of motion should look for vehicles with six-way adjustable power seats and seat heights that come between the driver’s mid-thigh and lower buttocks. These features can ease vehicle entry and exit.
  • Drivers with arthritic hands, painful or stiff fingers or diminished fine motor skills can benefit from four-door models, thick steering wheels, keyless entry and ignition, power mirror and seats and larger dashboard controls and buttons. These features reduce the amount of grip strength needed and reduce pain associated with motion.
  • Drivers with diminished vision or problems with high-low contrast find vehicles with auto-dimming mirrors, large audio and climate controls and displays with contrasting text helpful. These features can reduce blinding glare and make controls and displays easier to see.
Consider Adaptive Equipment
Man driving with hand controlsIf you find it is getting more difficult to comfortably operate your vehicle, then it might be time to consider adaptive equipment which can have a dramatic effect on safety and comfort. Some devices are simple and easily obtained while others require a recommendation from a driver rehabilitation specialist. 
 
Assistive devices that can make your life much easier include the following:
  • Automatic Transmission
  • Seatbelt adjuster
  • “Handibar” to help you get out of the car
  • Turn signal extenders
  • Left foot gas extension - used by drivers with right side weakness
  • Auto-dimming mirrors
  • Expanded mirrors
  • Convex mirrors - used by drivers to expand their useful field of vision
  • Easy-locking seatbelts
  • Visor extenders
  • Zero effort steering - used by drivers who have very limited arm mobility
  • Thicker steering wheels
  • Steering wheel covers to improve grip
  • Steering knob - used by drivers who have experienced a decline in arm strength
  • Larger dashboard controls and buttons
  • Dashboard displays with contrasting text
  • Hand controls
  • 6-way adjustable power seats
  • Seat back support cushions to relieve back pain or improve the ability to see over the steering wheel
  • Keyless ignition
  • Doors that automatically lock and open
Wear Your Safety Belt
The best defense in the event of a car crash is a safety belt. It can save your life and prevent severe injuries. For adult drivers, the safety belt should fit snugly and be worn low and tight across the hips and not across the stomach. The shoulder belt should come over the collarbone, away from the neck and cross over the breastbone. It is dangerous to wear a safety belt behind the back because it offers no protection. Oregon law requires that all motor vehicle operators and passengers be properly secured with a safety belt or safety harness. Child passengers must be restrained in approved child safety seats (see the Rules of the Road page for more information).

Avoid Operating Navigation and Communication Systems
Navigation and communication systems may add a level of safety and security to an automobile, but their use can also distract the driver from the task of driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that a driver use these devices only when the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift level is in park.

Position Vehicle Mirrors
Image of a vehicle side mirrorWhen driving, it is important to have a good view of the front, sides and rear of the vehicle. Drivers should adjust their rear view and side mirrors to ensure that they have adequate visibility before driving.  Especially after another driver has operated the vehicle or the vehicle has been serviced.
 
Note: Side mirrors do not eliminate “blind” spots so drivers should look over their shoulder before changing lanes.

Related Information
Additional information that may be relevant includes:
  • DMV provides a variety of safe driving materials.
  • DMV "The Vehicle" page provides information about vehicle safety equipment.
  • Safercar.gov is a Web site with information on safety ratings for vehicles, vehicle safety equipment, safety technology, and child passenger safety.
  • The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) advocates and supports excellence in providing safe, reliable vehicles and modifications to enhance accessibility for people with special needs.
  • The ODOT Roadway Safety Program Web site provides useful brochures and publications.