SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 18, 2012

Safety program helps seniors fit with their cars

BY ETHAN FORMAN STAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — DANVERS — Gloria Lipinski likes to drive with the seat belt tucked under her arm instead of draped over her shoulder. It’s more comfortable, she said.

But police officer Suzanne Tibbetts said wearing the belt that way offers less protection in the event of an accident.

What the 85-year-old Danvers woman, and many seniors and other drivers don’t realize, Tibbetts said, is that the seat belt can be adjusted so that it fits more comfortably across the chest.

It’s those subtle changes to a senior’s driving position that a new CarFit safety program aims to fix.

The program will be held Tuesday, Oct. 30, at the Danvers Senior Center.

It’s not meant to judge their driving skills, Tibbetts said. “It’s really evaluating the adjustments of the vehicle, the seat, the steering wheel and the mirrors,” she explained.

The program, run by the Police Department and Senior Center, takes into account physical changes such as reduced strength, a stiff neck or problems with vision as we age.

Technicians will go through a 12-point checklist to check the mirrors, the steering wheel, the view over the steering wheel, the seat, the head restraint, and the distance between one’s leg and the pedals. A distance of 10 inches from the chest is critical so the air bag can deploy safely, Tibbetts said.

Occupational therapists also will be on hand, along with a display of adaptive devices such as large, panoramic rearview mirrors and swivel seats that could help seniors fit better behind the wheel.

All the suggestions the technicians will make are only that, and everything in participants’ cars will be put back to their original positions after the fitting. Major mirror positions should be made in slight increments over the course of several weeks, Tibbetts said, to avoid confusing drivers.

Why do seniors often fit so poorly in their cars?

“A lot of it’s bad habits, and a lack of education about what is ergonomically better for them,” Tibbetts said, “and what is safer for them while they are driving.”

The program is aimed at people over 65, the fastest-growing segment of the population in the United States. It’s estimated that there will more than 30 million drivers age 65 and older by 2030, according to a CarFit media advisory. Seniors have the second-highest crash death rate per mile, topped only by teenage drivers.

“It’s important to keep seniors driving safe and comfortably,” Andre said. “Oftentimes, a senior will buy a car or be given a car and get into the car and leave everything the way it was. They don’t know how to adjust it. They don’t know what is the proper fit, what the proper mirror angles are for their maximum safety.”

To participate in the CarFit program, seniors must make an appointment by calling the Danvers Senior Center at 978-762-0208. Seniors can also sign up at the center. Each car fitting takes 15 to 20 minutes.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

If you go

What: CarFit program for older adults

When: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Rain date is Oct. 31, same time)

Where: Danvers Senior Center, 25 Stone St., back parking lot.

For an appointment: Contact the Senior Center at 978-762-0208.