(LAGUNA WOODS, October 25, 2005) — Older drivers are getting "fit" to drive safely as part of a program called CarFit, launched in Orange County today by the Automobile Club of Southern California. The pilot CarFit program was demonstrated at the Laguna Woods City Hall as part of Senior Safe Mobility Day in California. The Older Californian Traffic Safety Task Force, Auto Club, California Highway Patrol, and the City of Laguna Woods joined to help seniors learn how the effects of aging change the way they fit in their vehicle and how their driving can be affected.
The CarFit program is designed to give a quick, comprehensive check on how well a senior driver and their vehicle work together. CarFit was developed by AAA, the American Society on Aging, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association.
"The Auto Club believes that people should be able to keep driving as long as they want to — if they can do so safely. CarFit is an important part of keeping seniors safe," said Alice Bisno, vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs for the Auto Club. "We need to move past the myth that an older driver is automatically an unsafe driver; it's not true."
Bisno noted that age affects vision, flexibility, strength, range of motion and even size and height. "Unless seniors make adjustments, those changes may make older drivers less comfortable and reduce control behind the wheel. CarFit gives older adults the tools to help them stay on the road safely," she said.
"It's critically important that mature drivers make safety a personal priority," said Joseph Farrow, deputy commissioner of the California Highway Patrol. "Driving today is more difficult than ever because of more traffic, larger vehicles and faster speeds."
As part of the CarFit program, trained technicians take drivers through a 12-point checklist, including: Is the driver positioned correctly in the seat? Can the driver reach the pedals easily? Does the driver know how to adjust mirrors properly or have the flexibility to use mirrors?
The next step is for seniors to meet with occupational therapists who specialize in driver rehabilitation. Therapists give advice on ways a driver can maintain and strengthen their driving health, including community resources where seniors can go for further evaluation regarding exercise, nutrition and adaptive devices.
The number of seniors in California is growing rapidly. In 1990, people over 65 years old represented 10 percent of California's population. The California Department of Finance estimates that by 2025, seniors will total 8.7 million, nearly 17 percent of the state's population.
"In 1995, 68 percent of seniors were licensed drivers. It is reasonable to expect that as the population ages, this percentage will increase," Bisno said. "If just 75 percent of seniors are licensed in 2025, that will equal 6.5 million licensed senior drivers."
Crash data for California indicate that drivers aged 55 to 70 are involved in fewer crashes per licensed driver than other age groups. After age 70 there is a slight increase in crashes, but seniors still are far below crash figures for teen drivers. After the age of 85, crash rates calculated on a per-mile traveled basis, show that seniors have higher death and injury rates than teens, due in large part to the seniors' physical frailty, not their driving habits.
California has no upper driving age limit and state law prohibits the Department of Motor Vehicles from using age alone to require a behind-the-wheel test at license-renewal time. However, motorists 70 or older must renew their license in person rather than through the mail.
The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest affiliate of the AAA, has been serving members since 1900. Today, the Auto Club's members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing, buying and financing programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip planning services and highway and transportation safety programs. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club's Web site at www.aaa.com.