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Assistive Accessories For Your Car

Changes in vision, flexibility, strength, range of motion and even height are all part of the aging process, and they can affect senior drivers behind the wheel. That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself about how to choose or make alterations to ensure it's the right vehicle for you, one that will optimize your driving performance and safety.

Start by positioning yourself properly inside your vehicle. Getting the right fit isn’t just a matter of comfort, however. Unless you can operate a car properly and interact with its controls the way they were designed to be used, you may be compromising your safety.

Here are a few things to check to ensure you’re positioned properly in your vehicle. All of these adjustments can help improve safety for senior drivers in the event of a crash. 

  • Sit 10 inches away from the steering wheel to give the airbag the time and space it needs to expand in an impact.
    • Sliding the seat back will help obtain proper positioning in relation to the airbags.
  • Be able to see at least three inches over the top of the steering wheel, so you’ll have the proper range of vision.
    • Raising the seat can get you high enough to see over the steering wheel.
  • Wear your safety belt so the bottom strap fits low on your hips and the shoulder strap sits snugly across your chest and over the center of your shoulder.
    • If the shoulder strap cuts into your neck or doesn't rest firmly on your chset and shoulder, it's not positioned right. 
    • Tilting the seat forward can put you in the right position for the shoulder strap.
  • Be able to operate the accelerator and the brake without having to stretch your leg or lift your heel off the floorboard.
    • Moving the seat forward can help you reach the pedals better.

If you’re still not positioned properly, contact your local AAA club or visit www.Car-Fit.org to find a CarFit clinic, where experts can help you get positioned properly. (Keep in mind that CarFit is not available in all areas). The AAA club can also lead you to resources for adaptive vehicle devices designed for in-car use, such as hand controls, pedal extenders, special mirrors and specially designed foam cushions that overcome specific issues.

Don’t try to fix position issues with things you have at home, like pillows and wooden blocks. Things like that can slide, break and go flying unexpectedly, creating additional safety problems. Here are some adaptive vehicle devices senior drivers might find useful:

Key Extender

  • For those with limited hand mobility or arthritis, key extenders offer more leverage for turning keys in the door and ignition.
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Leveraging Devices

  • This equipment provides a secure platform for drivers getting in and out of a car. The stainless steel device locks securely into position, utilizing the vehicle’s U-type striker plate where the door latches.
  • Easy to store and carry, this product includes a safety belt cutter and side window breaker, and it can support up to 350 pounds.
  • These devices do not work on vehicles that do not have a U-shaped striker on the door pillar.
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Swivel Seat Cushion

  • Swivel seat cushions work well for most drivers by reducing pain in the back, hips and knees.
  • Ideal for car seats, the seat cushion rotates, allowing the driver to smoothly transfer from a sitting to standing position, and vice versa.
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Hand Controls

  • The push/pull brake and accelerator hand control is a simple effective design.
  • Controls work on the basis of push to brake and pull to accelerate.
  • Although training on these devices is required, they can provide the opportunity for increased mobility to those with lower extremity injuries or paralysis.
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Panoramic Mirros

  • Convex panoramic rearview mirrors reduce blind spots simply by clipping onto your existing rearview mirror.
  • This type of mirror is ideal for drivers who have limited neck mobility or a difficult time looking over their shoulder to perform a check of the blind spot.
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Convex Mirrors

  • For drivers with neck mobility problems, convex safety mirrors can help drivers reduce dangers caused by your blind spot when passing and changing lanes on the road.
  • When used properly, convex mirrors will show drivers what is in their blind spot without having to turn the neck too far.
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Pedal Extender

  • Pedal extensions allow drivers to comfortably reach gas and brake pedals.
  • They help drivers maintain a greater distance from the air bag in the event of a deployment.
  • Pedals come in a variety of lengths, from 1 to 4 inches high, and should be installed by a professional.
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Leg Lift Strap

  • Leg lift straps can help drivers with limited lower extremity strength.
  • The strap attaches to the thigh or foot, allowing the driver to use upper body strength to lift his or her leg into a vehicle.
  • This provides drivers an easier way to transfer from a wheelchair to the cars seat.
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Anyone looking to add adaptive vehicle devices to their vehicle will need to work with a trained professional, usually an occupational therapist, to receive a driving assessment. The occupational therapist will recommend equipment and training by a certified driver rehabilitative specialist, if necessary. 

Generally, there is a charge for this type of assessment. Contact your health insurance provide before scheduling an appointment with an occupational therapist to be sure you understand what your out-of-pocket expenses will be.