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Guest editorial: Ideas to keep older drivers on the road

If you know an older driver, here's a list of last-minute Christmas gift ideas that could help them from getting into a crash: pedal extensions, seat cushions or steering wheel covers for their vehicles.

Or if you're an older driver, you should consider making the purchase yourself.

New research from the American Automobile Association shows that nearly 90 percent of older drivers haven't made inexpensive adaptations to their vehicles that could improve safety and extend their time behind the wheel.

If you're an older driver and think you don't need such contraptions, consider this: Seniors aged 65 and over are more than twice as likely as younger drivers to be killed when involved in a crash.

That's why AAA is urging older drivers to consider making the necessary adaptations to their vehicles in order to reduce crash risk and extend the time they can continue to drive.

"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 in a news release. "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."

Some of the inexpensive devices that can be purchased and put to use in new or existing vehicles are:

• Cushions and seat pads — improves drivers' line of sight and can help alleviate back or hip pain.

• Convex/multi-faceted mirrors — improves visibility and minimizes blind spots.

• Pedal extension — helps drivers obtain a safe distance from the steering wheel/airbag and optimizes visibility.

• Steering wheel covers — improves grip for drivers with arthritic hand joints.

• Hand controls — allows the driver to perform all vehicle maneuvers and functions without the use of lower extremities.

The AAA urges drivers to consult with a trained technician to guide them in making the adjustments to their vehicle.

Vehicle adaptations also benefit seniors' mental health by extending their time on the road. Previous research from the AAA foundation 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.

In the study, more than 70 percent of senior drivers had experienced health conditions that impact muscles and bones such as arthritis, hip/knee replacement and joint pains. Some seniors in the study reduced their driving because of these conditions.

The installation of certain devices like steering wheel covers can help lessen the impact of arthritis while larger mirrors and assistive devices on seats can help with limited neck mobility.

"Older drivers have the opportunity to take advantage of simple and inexpensive vehicle adaptations to make them more comfortable and safer behind the wheel," said Amy Stracke, AAA managing director of traffic safety advocacy. "These adaptations can help seniors drive safer and longer."—Alexandria Echo Press