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Preparing For A Drive

Has this ever happened to you? You get into a car that someone else has just driven and don’t notice that the mirrors are incorrectly adjusted – until you have to check one of them? It’s a common mistake, as often we get into our car and drive without actively preparing for what we are about to do, but this behaviour can lead to dangerous situations.

Pre-Driving Video and Checklist

In order to drive safely, we need to make sure that our car is adjusted so that it fits us as perfectly as possible. Proper positioning gives us greater steering control, and can dramatically increase how much of the road and our surroundings we can see.

Watch CAA’s video to help prepare for your drive and/or use our pre-driving checklist:

Print the checklist in its entirety and take it to your car. Keep a copy in the glove compartment and review it periodically. These simple adjustments can make anyone a safer driver!

Buying the Right Car for You

There are features available on some vehicle models that can make driving easier – and in some cases, safer. CAA recommends that you consider the following factors – as well as value, of course – when considering a vehicle for purchase:

  • Safety features, such as seat belts and the positions and types of airbags.
  • Ergonomics that can reduce operator fatigue and discomfort, such as adjustable pedals and seats.
  • Design features, such as keyless entry and push-button starters, that are very helpful for people with arthritic fingers who don’t want to be fumbling with keys in a dark parking lot.
  • Comfort, such as ease of entry and exit, leg room and size of control buttons.

The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists has developed a comprehensive list of types of cars to consider, as well as specific features that can help us to get in and out of a car, make driving easier and safer, and that make it easier to load such things as groceries in our vehicle. Click the button below for a printable document that can be taken to a car dealership for reference.

Vehicle Features that Help Address Health and Mobility Issues

Our sister organization in the United States, AAA, worked with the University of Florida Institute for Mobility, Activity, and Participation to help identify smart features for senior drivers to optimize their comfort and safety. These features are presented by the types of mobility or health issues that a senior driver might have, such as limited range of motion in the back or knees, or arthritic fingers.

Limited Knee Range of Motion and Hip of Leg Pain

Six-way Adjustable Seats
These require less strength to adjust. At a minimum, the seats should offer six-way adjustment: forward and backward, up and down, and seatback forward and backward.

Low Door Threshold
Low-door thresholds or “sills” make entry and exit easier, reducing the need to lift the leg over the threshold.

Comfortable Seats
The ideal seat height is between mid-thigh and lower buttocks. A low-slung sports car may look snazzy, but it requires extra strength and flexibility to get into and out of the vehicle. Likewise, a tall SUV requires extra effort to climb up into a seat.

Leather or Faux Leather Seats
The smooth material can ease entry and exit of vehicle.

Adjustable Foot Pedals
With a push of a button, the driver can adjust the accelerator and brake pedals, a feature especially helpful for petite drivers to reach the pedals while ensuring they are a safe distance (about 30 centimeters) from the airbag mounted in the steering-wheel.

Arthritic Hands and Limited Strength

Four-Door Models
Four-door models make entry and exit easier, especially if the car has a rear seat. Two-door cars also have longer, heavier doors, requiring more strength to open and close.

Thick Steering Wheel
Thicker steering wheels require less hand and wrist strength to grip and handle.

Keyless Entry
Operated by a push-button on the key fob, this feature is good for those with arthritic hands who find it painful to twist a key.

Power Mirrors
Power mirrors and seats are easier to adjust for drivers with limited strength or arthritis.

Larger Dashboard Controls
Audio and climate controls with large features and contrasting text are easier to see and manipulate, and thus less distracting.

Keyless Ignition
Utilizing a dash-mounted push-button instead of a traditional key, keyless ignition is beneficial to those with stiff or painful fingers who find it difficult to twist the ignition key.

Automatic Tailgate Closer
Power rear lift gates or rear hatches benefit seniors by preventing struggling with a heavy rear hatch, thus requiring no strength to open and close trunk or rear door.

Automatic Side Door Openers
Requires no strength to open and close side doors.

Heated Side Mirrors
This feature eliminates the need to scrape ice in inclement weather.

Limited Range of Motion in the Back, Neck, Shoulders, and/or Arms

Tilt and Telescoping Steering Wheel
The extra adjustments help the driver find a safe distance from the front airbag, as well as a comfortable position that alleviates knee, back, hip, neck or shoulder pain.

Large, Wide-Angle Mirrors
For those who have difficulty turning or twisting to look to the rear when changing lanes or backing up, large wide-angle mirrors can improve visibility and assist with blind spots.

Comfortable, Heated Seats with Lumbar Support
Lumbar support can help improve comfort for many drivers, especially those with back pain. Heated seats can help alleviate tension in the back.

Adjustable Seat Belts
Assist drivers in reaching for or buckling/unbuckling.

Automatic tailgate closer
Requires no strength or balance to open and close trunk or rear door.

Automatic Side Door Openers
Require no strength or balance to open and close side doors.

Heated Side Mirrors
This feature eliminates the need to scrape ice in inclement weather.

Large Rear Window
For those who have difficulty turning or twisting to look to the rear when changing lanes or backing up, larger rear windows can improve overall visibility and reduce turning required for backing up.

Rear Backup Camera*
Also known as backing aids, either rear view video cameras or parking distance sensors can be beneficial to older drivers with difficulty with mobility and neck movement.

Active Parallel Park Assistance*
Active park assist helps driver’s parallel park with the touch of a button, requiring less twisting of the upper body.

Front and Rear Sensors and Warning Systems*
Sensors monitor immediate space ahead of and behind vehicle to minimize driver twisting and upper body rotation.

Foot-Engaged Emergency Brake
A foot-engaged emergency brake can be easier to use than a hand-operated brake.

* These systems are not intended to supplement a driver’s visual checks.
They are NOT replacements for mirrors and should not be used as such.

As well, CAA Saskatchewan has put together some very good information on helping to ensure that seniors get the best price for that new or used vehicle, once they determine what they want to buy. That information can be found here.


The information and materials on this page have been reprinted with permission from The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. The content provided is for information purposes only. Information on this website is not to be used in place of professional advice and/or recommendations.

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