Keeping older drivers "fit" for safe driving

Older drivers are often stereotyped as being unsafe on the roadway, however data regarding their safe driving practices reveal quite the contrary. For example, according to a recent survey from AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association, nine in 10 older drivers fasten their seat belts when they get behind the wheel and more than a third have taken driver improvement courses.

As we age, the body becomes more fragile and therefore injuries may be more severe in the event of a crash. Age also brings changes to vision, cognition, flexibility, and speed of reflexes. New strategies or adaptive equipment may be needed to ensure safety and comfort.

Recent survey findings show that senior drivers often experience safety-related "fit" challenges with their cars including:

improper distance from steering wheel (59 percent);

inadequate views from side mirrors (32 percent);

improper seat height (28 percent) and improper head restraint height

(21 percent)

The encouraging news is that after a CarFit check, a free driver safety program, 97 percent of participants' issues were resolved.

Anchorage seniors can follow the lead of more than 30,000 older drivers from around the country who've participated in CarFit, a free safety program that takes a driver, while in their car, through a 12-point checklist to assess the fit of the driver's car for optimal safety settings. Created through a partnership between AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), CarFit helps seniors improve their "fit" to their vehicles to enhance safety, comfort and best protection in the event of a crash.

CarFit helps mature drivers understand vehicle adjustments and safety features of their vehicle, and discuss driving safety and mobility without concern over losing their license. Personal mobility is critical to healthy aging as it allows people to age in place in their community.

Some of the areas that CarFit assess are:

Seat belt fit to ensure placement on the strong bones of the driver, not the neck or belly.

The proper tilt of the steering wheel and positioning of the air bag: at least 10 inches between the chest and the airbag housed in the steering wheel.

A properly adjusted head restraint to prevent whiplash injuries.

A clear line of sight above the steering wheel and dash.

Easy access to the gas and brake pedal.

Properly adjusted mirrors to diminish blind spots.

How can you participate in a free 20-minute CarFit check?

There will be a CarFit event at the Palmer Senior Center Oct. 24, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Or individual, one-on-one checkups can be made by appointment. Call Safe Alaskans at 907-929-3939 or email

See first-hand how certified CarFit technicians can help you with comfort and the safety settings of your car. Each free checkup takes approximately 20 minutes. Participants will receive a "goodie bag" of freebies and pertinent information.

CarFit technicians make suggestions and provide free adaptive equipment as needed for improved positioning, reaching the seatbelt, or getting in and out of vehicle.

If you'd like more information about CarFit, call the Center for Safe Alaskans at 907-929-3939, visit or go to the national CarFit website .

The Center for Safe Alaskans is a non-profit agency. Through a grant from the Alaska Highway Safety Office, Safe Alaskans coordinates transportation safety programs locally for all ages to include car seat and booster seat checkups, teen safe driving campaigns in all Anchorage major high schools and CarFit for senior drivers. Additionally, Safe Alaskans conducts the annual statewide seat belt observation rates as well as other safety initiatives.

Beth Schuerman is the CarFit project director for the Center for Safe Alaskans.

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