Driving? Make sure your car fits you

Carfit participant Juli McGruder, professor emerita of occupational therapy, who is 5 foot tall. She was helped with her seating position in her Saturn (Fall 2011) Photo by Ross Mulhausen.

By Lucretia Berg

These days everyone seems to be talking about “aging in place.” But have you heard about the changes some of us need to make to ensure safe driving as we age?
The CarFit event to be held by the University of Puget Sound occupational therapy program on Tuesday, Sept. 18, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., in Tacoma may be of interest to you. CarFit is a free national program sponsored by AARP, AAA, the American Society on Aging, and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

A primary focus of CarFit is to highlight easy changes drivers can make to their vehicles to optimize safety. During the inaugural CarFit event in 2005, when events were held in 10 cities nationwide,  it was found that 37 percent of the 300 participating drivers had a critical safety issue that needed addressing.

Changes included adjusting seat depth or height to increase the line-of-sight over the steering wheel, moving the driver’s seat back to increase the distance from the steering wheel, and adjusting head rests or rear and side view mirrors. At the upcoming half-day CarFit event, students in the final year of Puget Sound’s occupational therapy master’s program, a professor, a certified driving rehabilitation specialist, and the AARP CarFit state coordinator will take you on a tour of your car’s features and give you tips on how to adjust them to fit your individual needs.

Why are occupational therapy students involved?  Occupational therapists work in many settings, including schools, hospitals, and private homes with the goal of helping people do their day-to-day activities in the safest and most effective way. The faculty and students of the School of Occupational Therapy at University of Puget Sound offer the free CarFit program with the aim of contributing to the local community. CarFit participants, in turn, provide the students with “hands-on” experience in one of the many skills they will need in their future careers.

In a CarFit event held last October on campus, 23 drivers reviewed their personal fit within their vehicles. Participants said they valued learning how to improve their rear viewing, to position their seat  to prevent unnecessary air bag trauma, and to make adaptations that made it easier to get in and out of the vehicle. CarFit is about comfort, function, and, above all, safety of the driver.

CarFit will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at the William T. and Gail T. Weyerhaeuser Center for Health Sciences, located at the corner of North 11th St. and North Lawrence St., Tacoma, on the University of Puget Sound campus. The free event will run from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Each evaluation will take about 30 minutes. Participants may make a reservation or just show up with their vehicle.

To make a reservation or for further information contact Lucretia Berg at (253) 879-1565 or at lberg@pugetsound.edu.

Lucretia Berg is a visiting clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy at University of Puget Sound.