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Simple changes that can be lifesaving for senior drivers

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - Nearly 90 percent of senior drivers are not making simple and inexpensive modifications to their cars that could save lives and extend their time behind the wheel according to a recent study by the Automobile Club of Southern California.

"When it comes to these inexpensive adaptive devices, most seniors don't even know they exist," said Automobile Club spokesperson Doug Shupe.

Part-time desert resident Kathy Porter, confident in her driving abilities, is among those who have not made any changes.  But, she may want to, since Shupe says seniors are more than twice as likely as younger drivers to be killed when involved in a crash. 

"I even think that some seniors when they get to a certain age should have to get another driver's license to make sure they are capable," said Porter.

To enhance safety, and comfort, the Automobile Club is encouraging older drivers to purchase some inexpensive and easy to use car accessories, staring first with a cushion or seat pad.

"It can give additional height when you sit on it to give three additional inches of vision above the steering wheel, and can be put behind the back to alleviate back pain," said Shupe.

A "swivel chair" can also be used.

"The swivel chair is a great option for seniors to help increase their mobility, getting in and out of the vehicle.  What it does is help the senior driver 'swivel out' as the name says, to easily get out of the vehicle," said Shupe.

Also, for seniors who have difficulty moving their legs, may want to use "leg lifters", which are a simple strap with a loop on the end.

"The leg lifter is another easy portable thing, fold it up, put your leg in loop of the lifter, you lift the leg into the vehicle and lift the leg out of the vehicle," said Shupe.

Another simple yet ingenious device is a "car handle," which can be placed in a door latch, to make it easier to maintain balance while sitting down or standing up.

Seniors are also encouraged to add "multi-faced" mirrors, or convex mirrors.

"The convex mirror increases visibility. It reduces blindspots and the simple addition to your rear view mirror really does a add a lot of vision for the senior driver," said Shupe.

For drivers with arthritis, a "key turn" can be attached to the key, making it easier to put the key into the ignition and turn it.

Also, a steering wheel pad can help improve grip, when a senior's grip is not as strong as it used to be.

Another modification is "seat belt extenders".

"One of the things we hear from seniors, its hard to reach back for the seat belt, it sometimes causes pain in the shoulder, the extender makes it easier to simply reach down into their lap to fasten their belt, without reaching back," said Shupe.

Shupe says all the devices can be purchased for anywhere from $10 to $20 dollars, which is a relatively small investment, considering some of them could prove to be life saving. 

For the accessories that require installation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration strongly recommends that the work be performed by a trained technician.

The Automobile Club offers a complete online guide and other resources for "safe senior driving."

California Highway Patrol offers seniors a free course to help maintain their driving independence as long as they can safely drive.


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