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Occupational Therapy Students Assist Older Drivers

Dozens of doctoral and master’s degree-seeking students from the School of Occupational Therapy recently participated in a CarFit Technician Training and CarFit Event to offer older adults the opportunity to check how well their personal vehicles fit them.

The events are part of a national program coordinated between the American Occupational Therapy Association, the American Automobile Association and the American Association of Retired Persons.

“I found my experience with the CarFit Training program very educational for my professional career as well as in my personal life.  We learned appropriate measurements in which individuals should be placed in vehicles to ensure optimal safety,” said occupational therapy student Mandy Alford, who adjusted her car seat and mirrors after CarFit training. “The training taught us how to recognize when individuals are having difficulty completing necessary tasks to ensure that they are safe operating a vehicle. This learning experience strongly relates to our occupational therapy courses, in particular Technology and Interventions.”

Using a 12-point check list, students reviewed seat positions and adjusted mirrors, headrests, seat belts and steering wheels to prevent whiplash and make driving more comfortable for senior citizens. They used a set protocol  and handouts from a national resource bank and will send data collected to CarFit to help with further research on older drivers.

“As we get older, our body changes significantly so we need to change our behavior so our cars fit us,” said Associate Professor Ruth Ford. “People drive in unsafe condition because they forgot how to change seats back after technicians moved them while servicing cars. New cars have so many new features that people many not know how to tilt their seats.”

The CarFit program provides information and materials on community-specific resources that could enhance their safety as drivers and increase their mobility in the community. Older drivers are often the safest drivers in that they are more likely to wear their seat belts and less likely to speed or drink and drive. However, older drivers are more likely to be killed or seriously injured when a crash does occur due to the greater fragility of their aging bodies.

Driver safety programs improve adult driver safety by addressing cognitive abilities and skills; however, older drivers can also improve their safety by ensuring their cars are properly adjusted for them. A proper fit in one’s car can greatly increase not only the driver’s safety but also the safety of others. The CarFit project allows the graduate students to learn firsthand how to assure driving safety for older drivers through driver assessment and intervention.

“The students have really enjoyed the experience because it allows them to not only adjust their cars to make it safe for their driving, but they take it back to their family members and can use it for their future clients,” Ford said. “We want to help prepare  everyone for 2030 when there will be 70 million people over age of 65. Assume that one in five will be a driver. That changes the flow of traffic and how people drive, and we want to keep everyone safe. Older drivers are not necessarily unsafe drivers, but they have to adjust to the changes of their body and learn to adjust their cars.”

Occupational therapy student Mark Ivey said, “The CarFit event was actually beneficial for all age groups, not just senior citizens. After the event I made adjustments to my own vehicle to allow for better line of sight in the mirrors. I also used the information I learned to adjust the seat and headrest into a safer position. I hope to share this information with my parents when I see them this weekend.”

The CarFit event was done in conjunction with Ollie Jackson from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Jim Paris from the American Association of Retired Persons and Rose Boyd from the Commission Council for Strategic Initiatives.