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Help seniors drive safer, longer

By Mary Krueger - Douglas County Senior Coordinator

A vehicle is one of the largest purchases a person makes, and it is critical to find the right one for you.

Here are some things to look for in a vehicle to help older drivers optimize their comfort and safety in their vehicle.

• Safety features such as seat belts and the positions and types of airbags.

• Ergonomics that reduce operator fatigue and discomfort, such as adjustable pedals and seats.

• Comfort, such as ease of entry and exit, leg room and the size of the control buttons.

• Value, such as price, operating and maintenance costs, as well as reliability, fuel economy and resale value.

Find a vehicle that is tailored to fit your needs.

If you suffer from limited knee range or motion, hip or leg pain, look for adjustable seats. They require less strength to adjust.

Also look for low door thresholds that make entry and exit easier, which reduces the need to lift your legs. A tall SUV may require extra effort to climb up into the seat.

Leather seats can ease entry and exit as well. Some vehicles also have accelerator and brake pedals that adjust. This is helpful for drivers who are vertically challenged.

You may also want to look for steering wheels that tilt and telescope. This will keep you a safe distance from the air bag.

If you have arthritic hands, try to purchase a vehicle with four doors, because two-door cars have heavier doors.

Look for a thicker steering wheel that will require less hand and wrist strength to grip.

Keyless entry is good for those who find it painful to twist a key. Power mirrors are easier to adjust for those with limited strength. Larger dashboard controls are easier to see and less distracting. Heated side mirrors eliminate the need to scrape ice off in winter.

If you have limited upper body range of motion, back, neck, shoulders and arms look for tilt and telescoping steering wheels. They help keep you a safe distance from the front airbag.

Use large, wide angle mirrors. They can help improve visibility and assist when changing lanes or backing up. Look for seats with lumbar support, especially if you have back pain. Find a vehicle with large rear window visibility. This can help reduce turning when backing up.

Some newer vehicles have rear back up cameras and active parallel park assistance. These would also require less twisting on the upper body.

If you have diminished vision, try to use extendable sun visors that help prevent glare from the sun. Large audio and climate control buttons are easier to see and are less distracting.

High contrast instrument panels allow for better visibility with quick glances and are helpful for drivers with diminished vision due to glaucoma or cataracts.

We have also started a new program in Douglas County called CarFit where you can have a technician look at you while you are in your vehicle and make suggestions on how to keep you safer and driving longer. Call Mary at (320) 762-3047 with questions.