As a group, older drivers are typically safe drivers. They are more likely to wear their seat belts and less likely to drink and drive. But they are also the group with the highest fatality rates during crashes—a rate that increases slightly for drivers age 65 and older, and significantly for drivers older than 75.

Sadly, many older driver injuries and fatalities are a consequence of the driver’s inability to withstand the impact from accidents. Fortunately, there are ways to adapt your car—and adjust your “fit” within it—to reduce your risk of injury during a crash.

To help you address these safety concerns, AARP, in conjunction with AAA and the Hawai‘i Occupational Therapy Association, has developed a free program called CarFit to help drivers improve their fit and comfort.

During a CarFit event, a team of trained technicians works with drivers to ensure that they fit their personal vehicles properly, using a 12-point checklist to make adjustments and offer suggestions that will improve safety behind the wheel.

Listed below are a few of the key items that CarFit technicians review:

  • A clear line of sight over the steering wheel. You should be able to see at least three inches above the wheel.
  • Plenty of room between the center of your chest and the driver side airbag (center of steering wheel). The ideal minimum safe distance is at least 10 inches.
  • A seat you fit in comfortably. You should be able to adjust the seat controls for good visibility and easy access to controls.
  • Properly adjusted head restraints, which may save you from neck injury in a crash. To adjust your head restraints, reach behind your head with both arms, and pull the head restraint up. The center of the head restraint should be even with the back of your head at “ear” level, and as close to the back of the head as possible.
  • Easy access to gas and brake pedals. Your feet should reach the pedals without having to stretch too far. You should easily be able to fully depress the brake pedal to stop. You also need to be able to move your foot easily between the brake, clutch and gas pedals.
  • A safety belt that holds you in the proper position and remains comfortable as you drive. The lower part of the belt should go across your hips, and the shoulder harness should go across the rib cage and not be under your arm.
  • Properly positioned side and rearview mirrors. Make sure that you can move your neck quickly and easily to check your mirrors and blind spots.

A CarFit assessment may prompt you to research adaptive equipment, such as pedal extenders to help you keep 10 to 12 inches between you and the steering wheel, or safety belt extenders to help improve comfort while driving.