Older drivers can easily make their cars safer — but few do, a new study finds.
Pedal extensions, for example, help create a safe distance from the steering wheel/airbag and maximize visibility, safety experts say. Seat cushions improve sight line and may reduce back and hip pain, while steering wheel covers improve grip.
But a survey of nearly 3,000 U.S. drivers aged 65 and older found fewer than 10 percent made use of these or other simple safety adaptations, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
"While many seniors are considered to be safe drivers, they are also the most vulnerable," said David Yang, the foundation's executive director.
Drivers 65 and older are more than twice as likely as younger drivers to be killed when involved in a crash, he pointed out in a foundation news release.
"Our research suggests that most senior drivers are not taking advantage of simple and inexpensive features like steering wheel covers that can greatly improve their safety and the safety of others on the road," Yang said.
And even among the senior drivers who had such devices, nearly 90 percent did not follow recommended advice and work with a trained professional to install them, the survey found.
More than seven in 10 of the drivers in the study had health conditions that affect muscles and bones, including arthritis, hip/knee replacement and joint pains.
Elin Schold-Davis is project coordinator of the American Occupational Therapy Association's older driver initiative. She said, "When an ache or pain begins hindering driving ability, many older drivers are able to continue driving safely after making a few adjustments."
Occupational therapists can help recommend the right changes, Schold-Davis said. They're "especially valuable in connecting the dots between medical challenges that can affect driving and the appropriate equipment and adaptations needed to remain safely independent in the vehicle," she added.
Other car adjustments that can help seniors stay on the road longer include convex or multifaceted mirrors that boost visibility and minimize blind spots. Also, hand controls can enable people to drive without using their feet, the AAA foundation said.