Study: Simple changes can make driving easier for senior citizens

COLUMBUS — Nearly 90 percent of older drivers do not make inexpensive adaptations to their vehicles that can improve safety and extend their time behind the wheel, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

AAA is releasing this data in conjunction with the American Occupational Therapy Associations’ (AOTA) Older Driver Safety Awareness Week.

Seniors, ages 65 and older, make up the fastest growing age group in the United States and are more than twice as likely as younger drivers to be killed when involved in a crash.

“While many seniors are considered to be safe drivers, they are also the most vulnerable,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “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.”

Improving Senior Safety and Mobility

The research brief, In-Vehicle Technologies, Vehicle Adaptations, and Older Drivers: Use Learning, and Perceptions is the first phase in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. The LongROAD project will generate the largest and most comprehensive senior driver database in existence to support in-depth research and better understand the risks and transportation needs of our aging population.

The first phase of the study investigated 12 aftermarket vehicle adaptations and found that fewer than 9 percent of senior drivers reported using any of these devices in their vehicle.

More than 70 percent of senior drivers participating in the LongROAD project experienced health conditions that impact muscles and bones. Some reduced their driving due to these conditions. Certain adaptive devices could have kept these seniors driving safer, longer, including:

  • Driver seat cushions provide comfort and support for the driver’s posture and allow for a better view of the road.
  • Steering wheel covers improve grip for drivers with arthritic hand joints.
  • Seat belt extension helps drivers with limited mobility fasten their seatbelt.
  • Push button ignition allows for easier start of the vehicle.

Using adaptive devices can also benefit seniors’ mental health by extending their time on the road. Previous AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research shows that seniors who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times more likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who remain behind the wheel.

“It’s surprising that more seniors are not utilizing simple and inexpensive vehicle adaptations when you consider the large number dealing with muscle and joint conditions,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety and advocacy.

Finding the Safest Fit

Choosing the right features and working with a trained technician is imperative to safety behind the wheel, yet nearly 90 percent of drivers who have a device said they did not work with a trained professional to install it.

“Occupational therapy practitioners trained in driving rehabilitation are 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,” said Elin Schold Davis, project coordinator of AOTA’s Older Driver Initiative.

AAA, AOTA, the American Society on Aging and AARP worked together to develop CarFit – a community-based program where trained professionals conduct quick, yet comprehensive 12-point checks of seniors’ personal vehicles and make recommendations for needed adjustments or adaptations. Older drivers can learn more about this program at

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 57 million members with travel-, insurance-, financial- and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited online at

*Additional information on the LongROAD project, including a full list of the adaptive devices investigated in this phase of the study can be found at

By Kimberly Schwind

Special to the Inquirer

Kimberly Schwind is the senior public relations manager at AAA Ohio Auto Club.