Car safety program good fit for seniors
The petite elderly lady drove perched on three thick phonebooks. That way, she could peek over the wheel. She knew she could slide her car seat back and forth. But up and down? That was a revelation she had at a "CarFit" event at her church last ...
The petite elderly lady drove perched on three thick phonebooks.
That way, she could peek over the wheel. She knew she could slide her car seat back and forth. But up and down? That was a revelation she had at a "CarFit" event at her church last year - a program that teaches seniors to adjust their vehicle for optimum safety and comfort.
"She was elated by the fact she no longer had to sit on her phonebooks," said Gene LaDoucer, public and government affairs director for AAA North Dakota.
On Thursday, the AAA, MeritCare and the American Occupational Safety Association put on the first area CarFit event open to the public, in the hospital's Southpointe parking lot.
A team of volunteers helped drivers 65 and older make such small discoveries about their vehicles. They were careful to convey they were dispensing tips rather than sizing up fitness to drive - a fear organizers have worked to dispel since the national program began in 2005.
"Whenever you bring up the topic of seniors driving, people assume you're talking about getting them off the road," LaDoucer said. "But that's not at all what this program is about."
Don Stetson, a 79-year-old retired attorney, drove in from Lisbon, N.D., in his silver 2006 Hyundai Sonata. He logs 20,000 miles each year to his lake cottage and to Arizona come winter. Lately, he's taken to driving 5 mph below the speed limit.
"As you age, you do slow down a bit, no question about it," he said.
That sort of caution makes many seniors the safest drivers around, said Elin Schold-Davis of the American Occupational Safety Association. But because of their more fragile bodies or failure to use newer-model vehicle safety features correctly, they're injured disproportionately in accidents.
Simple changes, such as adjusting rearview mirrors to shrink blind spots, can make a difference. CarFit volunteers also show off a slew of gadgets that aid in adjusting seat belts, getting into the car and turning the key in the ignition more easily.
And, says Davis, they're not in the business of taking anyone's license away.
"You don't have to suffer in silence," she said. "Driving doesn't need to be to a mysterious thing to keep in the closet."
At the CarFit 12-point inspection, Stetson passed on most counts: He sits back more than 10 inches away from the wheel, reducing the risk of airbag injury. His line of vision is 3 inches above the steering wheel, and his legs are 2 inches below it. But he found out his seat leans too far back, which means his seat belt doesn't fit snugly.
"I've always driven with the seat way back," Stetson said. "This is the first time I've been told the correct position."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529