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Older Adult Drivers Receive Safety Tips At UWF CarFit Event

Josh Morton

Last week almost 40 older adult drivers showed up to take part in the first ever CarFit event to be held at the University of West Florida. CarFit is an educational program that looks at issues older drivers may be having, and seeks to find and present solutions to these issues, bringing about a better sense of safety and comfort to the drivers and the vehicles they are being fitted for.

Fran Carlin-Rogers, a national CarFit instructor, drove up from Orlando to do the training for all of the participating CarFit volunteers as well as run the event itself. 

“What we’re actually looking at is comfort and safety in your vehicle,” says Carlin-Rogers. “So we have a team of trained volunteers who look at things like the way the mirrors are positioned in your vehicle. Can you really see traffic around you?”

She adds that they avoid making any changes to the drivers’ vehicles. They will make suggestions that may enhance the comfort and safety of the driving experience, but no changes will be made to the vehicle without the driver’s permission. The goal, she explains, is “to get the drivers thinking about what we can do to be as safe on the road as possible.”

The entire process, which takes about 20 minutes, has drivers pull up to a check-in tent and then drive forward to one of four available check-up stations to get fitted.

The fitting process consists of a 12-point check-up looking at things like the positioning of your steering wheel, mirrors, headrest, seat belt, and driver’s seat.  Once the check-up is completed, the driver gives a celebratory honk of their car horn, letting everyone know they have been successfully CarFitted and the volunteers all respond with a cheerful round of applause. 

Once the driver has completed their CarFitting, they then proceed to the check-out tent where a team of occupational therapists provide a final inspection.

Darren Jauncey, an occupational therapist from West Florida Rehabilitation Institute in Pensacola, says as far as their check-out station goes, they try not to make it like a visit to the doctor, but rather just assess the situation and offer recommendations to the driver.

“We try to minimize the amount of actual adjustment we do to someone’s vehicle,” Jauncey says. “Because you can compromise someone’s safety by changing too much stuff and then they drive away and now they don’t feel like their car is their car.”

If there is anything they notice the driver is struggling with, they will offer their insight as to how the problem can most effectively be handled. Sometimes, this involves the use of equipment that some of the drivers may not be aware is available to them, such as mobility cushions, leg lifters, panoramic mirrors, and what was referred to as a handy bar.

“It’s a simple device that can help somebody get in and out of the vehicle,” Jauncey explains. “Just a handle that can go into the door latch and provide a place for somebody to help push themselves up out of the vehicle, or again sit down comfortably.”

Again, the volunteers try to avoid making any major adjustments, and instead provide the driver with a tutorial on how they can make their vehicle safer and explain what the optimal positions are and why they are that way.

“The goal is of course safety and comfort, and we try to provide our expertise in that way as the final check out.”

Part of what made this CarFit event so special, was that it featured the 50,000th driver to be CarFit on a national scale. In celebration of that, one lucky driver was surprised with a Visa gift card every hour, making that person the symbol of the 50,000th driver to be CarFit. In addition, each driver to be CarFit received a gift bag full of things relevant to enhancing driver safety.

The first driver of the day to be rewarded was Pat Skaggs. 

“It was great,” Skaggs says. “I mean, being the 50,000th person was great. But the actual CarFit experience was great. Because I did pick up some tips and that’s what I came for.”

Skaggs says there were a few things she picked up on that have changed over the years.

“Where you put your hands on the steering wheel, and where the placement of the steering wheel is according to the airbags. And then the side view mirrors. I didn’t have that quite right. So I’ve got some homework to do.”

Marvin and Sandy Wagner heard about the CarFit event from a senior event they attended at their church and decided to come have each of their vehicles fitted.

Sandy says she learned a few things that she didn’t know before and found the experience to be quite beneficial.

“Well, I didn’t realize the seatbelt thing went up and down. I didn’t know you could adjust them. It’s been the way it was since we bought the car in ’05.”

Her husband, Marvin admits he learned a thing or two as well.

“Your distance from your chest to the steering wheel, where your mirror should be, and where your feet positions are at the pedals. You can help people out like that. It’s a good thing!”

In line with what each of the participants said about their CarFit experience, the UWF Center on Aging’s director, Rodney Guttmann, says the feedback he’s received has been all positive.

“This is my first CarFit event but we plan on doing more because the reception has been so fantastic,” Guttmann says. “People are asking ‘when are you gonna do it again?’ So we’re already looking forward to planning the next event.”

Guttmann says moving forward, they will likely be hosting two CarFit events per year and thanks to the training event, there are now 20 new ambassadors capable of hosting their own CarFit events, meaning they no longer have to rely on national agencies to come organize the event.

To find more information on CarFit, or other upcoming events hosted by the UWF Center on Aging, contact their office at 850-474-3298.