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MU Students Help Older Drivers Find a Perfect Fit Behind the Wheel

MU Students Help Older Drivers Find a Perfect Fit Behind the Wheel

COLUMBIA, Mo. – When older drivers hit the road, some people visualize a little old lady peering over the steering wheel. Now, a group of University of Missouri-Columbia students is helping mature drivers find the perfect fit behind the wheel.

“As people get older, they often lose independence, especially because of a lack of transportation. We want to help people find ways to safely maintain their independence as long as possible,” said Alex Roark, occupational therapy student at MU.

The U.S. Census Bureau has determined that by 2030, one in five drivers will be older than 65. Students from the School of Health Professions Department of Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science are volunteering their time to conduct free informational sessions for seniors to help them make safety a personal priority. The students will use CarFit, a national program, to pair older drivers with trained professionals for a comprehensive check of how well drivers “fit” in their vehicles.

“Each driver will go over a checklist with trained technicians, and hazards will be marked. An occupational therapist will then spend time with the driver making adjustments that will make drivers more comfortable to be in better control of their vehicles,” Roark said. “Many people do not realize that there is a recommended distance from the driver’s seat to the pedals in order to prevent fatigue and leg cramps while driving.”

The program will help determine the proper seatbelt fit, proper distance from steering wheel to chest, and how the seat should be positioned for optimal comfort, safety and visibility. Mirrors will be properly adjusted to remove potential blind spots. Headrests will be adjusted to the best position to prevent neck injury. Many adaptive devices are available, such as steering wheel covers to improve grip or seat lifts to aid getting in and out of a car.

“Oftentimes, most drivers don’t even realize there are proper ways to make their ‘fit’ in a vehicle better, or they don’t even know that devices that could help them are available.  That’s why we feel this is an important community project,” Roark said.

The CarFit program was developed through collaboration among the American Society on Aging, AARP, The American Occupational Therapy Association and AAA.