Simple Steps Most Elderly Drivers Don't Take to Cut Risk of Crash

Seniors can extend their time behind the wheel more safely with inexpensive adaptations like pedal extensions and seat cushions; large majority don't.

83-year-old female cab driver
Soeren Stache—Soeren Stache/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

With a record and increasing count of elderly drivers on the road, older seniors can reduce the risk of a crash with relatively inexpensive items like seat cushions and steering wheel covers.

Yet nearly 90 percent of older motorists do not make adaptations to their vehicles that can increase safety and prolong their time behind the wheel, according to research published Wednesday.

The issue is especially important given recent federal data linking elderly drivers to increased U.S. traffic deaths, which in 2016 hit a nine-year high. Part of the equation, drivers 65 and older are more than twice as likely as younger drivers to die in a crash, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

“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 and the safety of others on the road.”

Common measures such as the use of pedal extensions, seat cushions, and steering wheel covers can reduce crash risk and extend the amount of time older Americans can continue to drive, the group says.

“Most older drivers are simply unaware that free-to-low cost options are available to help improve their comfort and safety behind the wheel,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director, traffic safety advocacy and research. 

Part of a longer-term project to produce the biggest senior driver database, researchers in the currently published work studied 12 vehicle adaptations and found fewer than nine percent of senior drivers reported using any of the devices. 

Some inexpensive devices that can be purchased and put to use include cushions and seat pads, which can improve line of sight and help alleviate back or hip pain; multifaceted mirrors improve visibility and minimize blind spots; pedal extensions can help drivers keep a safe distance from steering wheels and airbags and optimize visibility; steering wheel covers improve grip for drivers with arthritic hand joints; hand controls let drivers perform all maneuvers and functions without using lower extremities. 

Both the National Traffic Safety Administration and American Occupational Therapy Association recommend working with a trained technician to help make vehicle adjustments, the AAA foundation said.