CarFit is a hit
Vehicle ergonomics program boosts skills, safety
Wendy Stav (foreground) and a colleague evaluate a driver’s
“fit” using CarFit’s 12-point checklist.
A TU occupational therapist is working with AARP, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and state and local agencies to help older drivers “fit” their cars.
It’s all part of a national, community-based program called CarFit.
The American Society on Aging, in collaboration with AARP, American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), developed CarFit as a service to drivers in their 60s, 70s and beyond.
Wendy Stav, assistant professor of occupational therapy, has been involved with the program since it launched two years ago.
Stav, a nationally recognized expert on older drivers, notes that driver-car ergonomics are especially important as people age, “A proper fit enhances driving skills.” she says. “It can also make the difference between life and death in an accident.”
Working with AAA Mid-Atlantic, Stav and a variety of partners—police, senior centers and public-health departments—have thus far coordinated more than 100 CarFit events in Maryland.
The 20-minute process is free; reservations are required.
Stav, who trains other occupational therapists for the program, says she and her colleagues work with a12-point checklist created especially with the needs of older drivers in mind.
“You have to remember that older drivers may never have learned how to properly adjust a safety belt, a steering wheel or a head restraint,” she says. “Those features weren’t part of vehicle interiors when they learned to drive 50 or 60 years ago.
“I’ve worked with people who don’t know how to operate their windshield wipers because they don’t drive in the rain. Likewise, they don’t know how to turn on their headlights because they don’t drive at night.”
CarFit’s occupational therapists teach the drivers where their safety belts should rest on their bodies—shoulder belt crossing at mid-clavicle with the lap belt low across the hips—as well as the proper distance from their breastbones to the steering wheel (no fewer than 10 inches).
Drivers also learn that their eyes should be at least three inches above the steering wheel to ensure an unobstructed line of sight, and that the steering wheel should be tilted toward their chests rather than their faces.
“In an accident you want the air bag to create a cushion between your torso and the steering wheel,” says Stav. “An air bag can actually injure you if it deploys in your face."
Occupational therapists also check the positioning of gas and brake pedals as well as rear- and sideview mirrors, bearing in mind the client’s physical condition or limitations.
“We’re not judging driving performance or making decisions about who should or shouldn’t be behind the wheel,” Stav emphasizes.
“Our mission is to teach older drivers how to better use their vehicles. They, their passengers and everyone else on the road stand to benefit from CarFit.”
The next CarFit event will take place on Friday, July 11, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Glenwood Senior (Community) Center, Cooksville, Md.
For reservations, call 410-313-2207 in Howard County.