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Older drivers could make minor changes to their vehicles that would reduce their crash risk - but most of them don't. That's the finding of a new report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that looks at the impact of aging on driving.
According to the AAA research, nearly 90 percent of older drivers do not make inexpensive adaptations to their vehicles even though doing so would be a simple safety improvement and extend their time behind the wheel.
“These adaptations include such minor things as seat cushions, steering wheel covers and pedal extensions – all low cost measures to improve safety,” said Ragina Cooper Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “AAA is urging older drivers to consider making minor adjustments to their vehicles that could make a major difference in terms of reducing the risk for a crash and extending the time they can continue to drive.”
Seniors aged 65 and over are more than twice as likely as younger drivers to be killed when involved in a crash. Last year in Maryland, there were 94 fatalities as a result of senior driver involved crashes, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The research brief, In-Vehicle Technologies, Vehicle Adaptations, and Older Drivers: Use, Learning, and Perceptions is the first phase in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s groundbreaking Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Researchers are currently engaged in generating the largest and most comprehensive senior driver database in existence. This critical information will support in-depth research to better understand the risks and transportation needs of our aging population.
For this phase of the study, researchers investigated 12 vehicle adaptations and found that fewer than nine percent of senior drivers reported using any of the devices in their vehicles. Some of the inexpensive devices that can be purchased and put to use in new or existing vehicles are:
Potential Safety Impact
Cushions and seat pads
Improves line of sight and can help alleviate back or hip pain
Convex/ multifaceted mirrors
Improves visibility and minimizes blind spots
Helps drivers obtain a safe distance from the steering wheel/airbag and optimize visibility
Steering wheel covers
Improves grip for drivers with arthritic hand joints
Allows the driver to perform all vehicle maneuvers and functions without the use of lower extremities
Choosing the right features and working with a trained technician is imperative to safety behind the wheel. Of those drivers who have a device, almost 90 percent reported that they did not work with a trained professional to install the modification, a key recommendation by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). AAA Mid-Atlantic urges drivers to consult with a trained technician to guide them in making adjustments to their vehicle.
“When an ache or pain begins hindering driving ability, many older drivers are able to continue driving safely after making a few adjustments, often very inexpensively, with devices added to the vehicle,” says Myra Wieman, Traffic Safety Program Manager with the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education. “These devices can range from a steering wheel cover, which makes the wheel easier for arthritic hands to grasp, to convex/multifaceted mirrors, which improve visibility and reduce blind spots.”
Vehicle adaptions also benefit seniors’ mental health by extending their time on the road. Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that seniors who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times more likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who remain behind the wheel.
In the LongROAD study, more than 70 percent of senior drivers had experienced health conditions that impact muscles and bones such as arthritis, hip/knee replacement and joint pains. Some seniors in the study reduced their driving due to these conditions. The installation of certain devices like steering wheel covers can help lessen the impact of arthritis while larger mirrors can help with limited neck mobility.
“It’s surprising that more seniors are not utilizing simple and inexpensive vehicle adaptations when you consider the large number who are dealing with muscle and joint conditions,” added Wieman. “Knowledge is power when it comes to extending time behind the wheel, and AAA and its Foundation are committed to providing seniors with the information they need to make sound decisions.”
AAA is promoting the report in partnership with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to support Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. AAA and AOTA worked in collaboration with the American Society on Aging and AARP to develop CarFit to help senior drivers better utilize the features and technologies in their vehicles.
The community-based program allows trained professionals to conduct a quick, yet comprehensive 12-point check of a senior’s personal vehicle and make recommendations for needed adjustments or adaptations. Older drivers can sign up for an event online.
AAA also offers the Smart Features for Older Drivers tool, which can help senior drivers identify inexpensive devices and vehicle features that optimize their comfort and safety.
About LongROAD: Recognizing that lifestyle changes, along with innovative technologies and medical advancements will have a significant impact on the driving experiences of the baby boomer generation, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has launched a ground-breaking, multi-year research program to more fully understand the driving patterns and trends of older drivers in the United States. The LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) study is the largest and most comprehensive senior driver database on senior drivers incorporating 2,990 participants. It will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures.
About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit www.AAAFoundation.org.
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