Kids are strapped into booster seats on a regular basis. If not, the driver or parent may be subjected to legal charges for failure to protect the child from harm in an auto. The seats also allow the child to have a view of their surroundings in a comfortable seat while affording them a view of the passing landscape. The driver, too, has a lesser degree of stress because they don’t have to attempt to drive while keeping a child upright or from moving about and causing problems related to steering or braking.
Although there are booster seats for children, who really don’t need to be raised up since they aren’t driving, there’s another group that may be considered for some “seat assistance” devices. I am referring, of course, to our elderly drivers, many of whom have shrunk over the years by virtue of loss of musculature and spine changes. How much they have shrunk may not even occur to many drivers and they ramble about failing to consider that they aren’t properly positioned in the driver’s seat.
Today, while shopping in a supermarket, I watched from my car as a woman slowly moved her car out of a space and into the main driveway portion of the parking lot. The move was painfully slow and it was apparent that she was having problems judging the perimeter of her car relative to other parked cars.
I didn’t mean to stare, but I couldn’t shift my eyes away. The woman was barely visible and her head didn’t even come up to the top of the steering wheel. Sitting in her seat and maneuvering her formidable car, she couldn’t even see over the dashboard. The front of her car was only a memory and its dimensions couldn’t be appreciated from her current vantage point.
Watching her, I wondered why she, or someone else, didn’t see the need for something to raise her up in her seat. This lady couldn’t get a decent look at her car or those around her. This was either a denial of the obvious or some impairment regarding driving.
The woman brought to mind the recent near-tragedy on Long Island, New York where a 97-year-old woman drove her car off a dock. Fortunately, an off-duty patrolman saw the accident and jumped in to save her. Had he not carried a special tool to break car windows with him, she would have perished — all the windows were rolled up and all the doors were locked.
What caused the accident? The thinking is that she mistook the gas pedal for the brake and instead of stopping, her car shot forward straight into the air and into the brackish water. The mistake is a fairly common one and can happen to anyone who might be preoccupied or anxious about something. We don’t know what exactly happened with this woman, but we do know she owes her life to that patrolman.
I’m not saying that senior citizens are responsible for more accidents than younger drivers. We know that’s not the case and seniors are generally careful about driving in bad weather, don’t use substances as younger drivers might and are not inclined to “put the pedal to the metal” as others do.
The suggestions for making seniors even safer drivers, in my opinion, fail to recognize the changes in the physical dimensions of senior frames. I didn’t find one research article or media tip that discussed the physical shrinkage in height that seniors experience. None of the tips included getting some type of seat accessory that would raise the driver high enough to see over the dashboard.
Sure, there are special seat accessories for those with certain handicaps. One is a swivel seat that allows sitting down before you turn to the driving position behind the wheel. It’s a really good idea, but it doesn’t address the fact that some drivers are almost invisible in their cars as they cruise down the road. Ever see one of those cars on the road? I have.
Remember when auto companies said they were changing the design of cars to accommodate a graying America? What happened to the changes they were considering? I don’t think I’ve seen one auto ad that talks about the advances of seat placement or other improvements. The only thing that is offered now, on the higher priced cars, is an electronic seat positioner that will raise the driver up. I happen to need this feature because I have those petite short arms.
Currently, it’s up to the senior driver or their family members to insure that they have an adequate view of the road ahead and behind them. I don’t think a bit of seat height enhancement carries the stigma that hearing aids do. So, why don’t we see these in auto dealerships or online shops?
Seniors drivers deserve to keep their independence as long as they can do it safetly. Being able to drive is one aspect of that independence, so let’s make it as safe as possible.