'Car Fit' - Choosing the Right Vehicle

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What CarFit Is

CarFit is an educational program created by the American Society on Aging. The program was developed together with the AAA, the AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association.

CarFit can help older adults determine how well their personal vehicles "fit" them.

CarFit also provides information and materials about resources that can:

  • enhance the safety of older adults as drivers, and/or
  • increase the ability of older adults to be mobile in their communities.


Why CarFit is Important

Compared with drivers in other age groups, older adults can be safer drivers, while also being at more risk. Older drivers normally wear their seat belts, and are less likely to speed or to drink and drive. At the same time, an older driver is also more likely to be killed or severely injured when a crash occurs. As the human body becomes older, it becomes more fragile and subject to more significant injuries.

Driver safety programs can improve the safety of older adults through improvements in their physical and mental skills. Older drivers can also improve their safety if they ensure that their cars are correctly adjusted to them. The correct "CarFit" can improve the safety of passengers just as it improves the safety of the driver.

The CarFit program is designed to help an older driver to:

  • determine how well they currently fit their personal vehicle,
  • highlight actions the older driver can take to improve the fit, and
  • promote communication about driver safety and the ability to be mobile in the community.


How a CarFit Check is Done

At a CarFit event, trained technicians and/or health professionals work with each driver to ensure the driver correctly fits their vehicle. The program covers 12 areas of the correct fit of the vehicle to the driver to help make sure the driver is both as comfortable and as safe as possible.

A CarFit check takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.


How CarFit Improves Road Safety

Here are three examples of how CarFit can improve safety for the driver in three areas:

  1. Correct adjustment of the rearview mirrors can greatly reduce "blind spots" and improve the safety of traffic lane changes.
  2. A good position of the foot of the driver on the gas and brake pedals is important. If the driver must reach for the pedals it can cause fatigue in the leg and slow the reaction time of the driver.
  3. The correct distance of the driver from the steering wheel is also important. Injuries in a crash can be more severe if a driver sits less than 10 inches from the steering wheel.


The Effectiveness of CarFit

CarFit was first tested in 10 cities, and more than 300 older drivers participated in the tests. The results from checklists completed at the events and surveys of the older drivers after the events show that:

  • More than one-third (37%) of the drivers had at least one very important safety issue that needed to be corrected.
  • One in ten of the drivers (10%) were too close to the steering wheel when driving.
  • Approximately 20% of the drivers did not have a line of sight at least 3" over the steering wheel, which is necessary for safe driving.

Most of the drivers who responded to the survey indicated that, because of the CarFit event, they:

  • made a change to improve the fit of their vehicle, or their use of safety features in their vehicle and/or
  • were more likely discuss their driving with family and/or health care providers.


CarFit Factors

During a CarFit session, you will learn that:

  • You need to be able to see at least three inches above the steering wheel for a clear line of sight.
  • For the best protection in a crash, you need at least 10 to 12 inches of distance between your breastbone and the steering wheel and driver airbag.
  • To be safe in your seat, you must be comfortable in your seat. Make sure you can adjust the seat easily for a good line of sight and for easy and safe access to controls.
  • To help prevent neck injuries, adjust your headrests to the correct position. Position the center of the headrest against the back of your head, not against your neck.
  • Make sure you can use both the gas and brake pedals without the need to stretch or reach with your leg and foot. Make sure you can easily move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal. Make sure you can push the brake pedal down all the way from your driving position.
  • Make sure your seat belt holds you in the correct position and remains comfortable as you drive. The lap seat belt needs to lie across your hips, not your abdomen. The shoulder harness needs to lie over your rib cage, and not be under your arm. Make sure you can easily reach the shoulder harness to fasten your seat belt. Also make sure you can easily release your seat belt.
  • Make sure you can easily get into and get out of your vehicle.
  • Make sure you can turn your head and look over your shoulder when you change traffic lanes.
  • Make sure that your position in the seat is as comfortable as possible. Adjust the seat position so there is no discomfort or pain in your knees, back, hips, neck or shoulders.
  • Adjust the mirrors to the correct position to remove blind spots (see the next section). Make sure you can easily adjust the mirrors from your driving position.

How can I get information about a Car Fit event?

You can check online for a CarFit event and register for an event in New York State

How can I get more information about vehicles that are safer for older drivers?

The AAA Senior Driving web site has helpful information about "Smart Features for Mature Drivers" .