What is CarFit?
CarFit was created by the American Society on Aging
(ASA) and developed in collaboration with the American Automobile Association
(AAA), American Association of Retired Persons
(AARP) and the American Occupational Therapy Association
(AOTA). It is aimed at helping to assess whether a car is suited to the specific needs and abilities of older drivers, and has been running successfully in the USA since 2005.
Below are tips to consider to ensure a car is best set up for the driver. These adjustments can make drivers feel more comfortable and in control of their vehicles.
Make sure you can reach the centre of the brake and accelerator pedals with the ball of your foot. Make sure the seat is high enough for your line of sight to be three inches above the steering wheel.
Always wear a seat belt when in the car, and of course while driving. The lap belt should go across your hips, and the shoulder belt should go across your rib cage – not under your arm. This can become difficult due to factors such as these:
- Flexibility restrictions limit the ability to reach over the shoulder to grab the belt
- Reduced strength makes it difficult to pull the belt over the chest to the clasp at the seat
- Loss of dexterity prevents fastening the belt buckle into the seat latch
Head restraint – Not to be used as a head rest
- Ensure that the top of the head restraint is as high as the top of your head
- Position the head restraint as close to the rear of your head as possible
- Adjust the head restraint to touch the middle of your head, not your neck
A properly adjusted head restraint will help reduce the effects of whiplash, stopping the neck from bending back – it will also reduce the amount of time it takes your head to initially contact the head restraint, and increase the amount of time that your head is supported during a crash.
The National Older Driver Research and Training Centre (NODRTC) from the University of Florida and the AAA have identified the many vehicle features that can optimise safety and comfort for seniors. The below are essential things to research before buying your next vehicle:
- Adjustable pedals - With a push of a button, the driver can adjust the accelerator and brake pedals, a feature helpful for drivers that find it difficult reaching the pedals while ensuring they are at a safe distance (about 30cm) from the airbag mounted in the steering wheel hub
- Large knobs and buttons with contrasting text - Audio and climate controls with large features and contrasting text are easier to see and manipulate, resulting in less distractions
- Power mirrors - Power mirrors are easier to adjust for drivers with limited strength or arthritis.
Large or wide angled mirrors: These can improve visibility for those who have difficulty turning or twisting to look to the rear when changing lanes or backing up
- Visors and extendable visors - Visors that extend can protect drivers from glare.
- Power operated, 6 way adjustable seats - These require less strength to adjust. At a minimum, the seats should offer 6 way adjustment – forward and backward, up and down, and seat back forward and backward
- Seat height - The ideal seat height is between mid thigh and lower buttocks. A low slung sports car may look snazzy, but it requires extra strength and flexibility to get into and out of the vehicle. Likewise, a tall SUV requires extra effort to climb up into a seat
- Low door threshold - Low door thresholds, or sills make getting in and out easier, reducing the need to lift the leg over the threshold
- Heated seats- Heated seats can help improve comfort for drivers with back pain
- Lumbar support - Lumbar support can help improve comfort for many drivers, especially those with back pain
- Four doors - Though not as sporty, four door models make entry and exit easier, especially if the car has a rear seat. Two door cars also have longer, heavier doors, requiring more strength to open and close
- Keyless entry - Operated by a push button on the key fob, this feature is good for those with arthritic hands who find it painful to twist a key
- Keyless ignition - Utilising a dash mounted push button instead of a traditional key, keyless ignition is beneficial to those with stiff or painful fingers who find it difficult to twist an ignition key
- Tilt and telescopic steering wheel - The extra adjustments help the driver find a safe distance from the front airbag, as well as a comfortable position that alleviates arm, knee, back, hip, neck or shoulder pain
- Thick steering wheel - Thicker steering wheels require less hand strength to grip and handle
- Adjustable seat belts - Adjustable seat belts assist drivers reaching to buckle and unbuckle the seat belt. It also helps drivers find a comfortable position for the belt
- Proven crash-worthiness - A new vehicle should exemplify proven crash-worthiness based upon crash test ratings (from ANCAP in Australia)
- Adjustable head restraints - This type of restraint moves forward to cushion the head if the car is hit from behind, helping reduce neck injuries
- Brake assist - Like the term implies, brake assist helps the driver generate enough force during emergency braking to stop the car in time to prevent a collision
- Anti-lock braking system - ABS prevents the wheels from locking during hard braking to help the driver retain steering control and eliminating the need to pump the brakes – an action that might be challenging for some older drivers
- Side and side curtain airbags - Side airbags protect the torso, pelvis and head. Older, frail adults are more prone to death or injury in crashes than younger people and may especially benefit from additional airbags
- Dual stage and dual threshold airbags - The airbag inflation force varies based on the driver or passenger weight, distance from airbags and crash severity. This is important for frail adults who may be injured by airbags that deploy too hard
- Stability control - This feature helps prevent loss of control in a turn, especially on slippery roads. It's particularly beneficial to older drivers with slowed reaction times – it automatically makes quick corrections to keep the vehicle stay on course