Older adults are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population — a trend that will soon result in record numbers of senior drivers on the nation’s highways. Compared to previous generations, it’s also a group that tends to spend more time behind the wheel. As we have mentioned before on this blog, any unsafe or inattentive drivers can pose hazards, both to themselves and to others. Before a person has to stop driving because of age or health, though, a number of things can be done to mitigate the risks associated with his or her driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advises that many automobiles can be altered or retro-fitted with equipment that makes driving safer and less difficult for those with arthritis or other health concerns. An occupational therapist, driver rehabilitation specialist or other professional should evaluate any driver who is beginning to have trouble operating a vehicle. Following are some possible vehicle alterations those professionals could recommend:
- “Larger panoramic rear and side mirrors;
- Pedal extenders to better reach the brake and accelerator while keeping the seat back at a safe; distance (11 inches) from the airbag in the steering wheel;
- Hand controls for the brake and gas;
- Car lifts and carrying devices for a wheelchair or scooter;
- Steering device to aid in grabbing the wheel and making turns easier or more efficient;
- Seat belt adapters to make belts easy to reach, improve fit, and make release buttons easier to operate by arthritic hands; ribbons attached to seat belts can assist in reaching for the belt;
- Special torso restraints to hold the driver upright;
- Turn-signal crossovers to shift operation of turn signals to the other side or to the floor for foot operation (to use the driver’s stronger arm or leg);
- Extra-loud turn signal ‘clickers’ or relocated / brighter turn signal indicators on the dashboard;
- Left-foot accelerator pedal for those with limited or no use of the right foot;
- Touch pads or voice-scan activation systems for car controls and electronic joystick controls for steering, gas pedal, and brake;
- Handybar which acts as a removable arm on a chair, helpful for driver of for passengers in getting in or out of the vehicle;
- Leg lifter which allows for ease of transfers and pivoting into the seat. A loop is placed over foot to assist in manually lifting leg into the vehicle. Also an alternative is to move the leg into vehicle by pulling on pant leg or manually lifting thigh.”
A time may eventually come when you’ll need to talk to an elderly loved one about the possibility of retiring his or her automobile. When that time comes, the American Medical Association offers these tips to help with the conversation:
- “Don’t bring up your concerns in the car. It’s dangerous to distract the driver! Wait until you have his or her full attention.
- Explain why you are concerned. Give specific reasons — for example, recent fender benders, getting lost, or running stop signs.
- Realize that your loved one may become upset or defensive. After all, driving is important for independence and self-esteem.
- If your loved one doesn’t want to talk about driving at this time, bring it up again later. Your continued concern and support may help him or her feel more comfortable with this topic.
- Be a good listener. Take your loved one’s concerns seriously.”
Previously on the D.C. Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:
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