Bob and Joy Willis didn't realize the significance of the car seat headrests being placed at just the right height for each of them in the Toyota Avalon they own.

She needs to lower the headrest while he needs to raise it somewhat, the Davenport couple explained after they completed a CarFit safety check sponsored this summer by Genesis Health System.

CarFit is a national education program that offers older adults the opportunity to check how well their cars "fit" them. Health professionals lead the classes in Davenport, and St. Ambrose University students are the helpers, said Gretchen Cluff, an occupational therapist and certified driving rehabilitation specialist for Genesis.

The CarFit organization is sponsored by the American Occupational Therapy Association, the AAA travel organization and AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons.

Genesis sponsors four sessions per year, with the next one scheduled Friday, Sept. 23. There is an additional CarFit checkup Saturday, Sept. 24, at CASI, the Center for Active Seniors Inc., 1035 W. Kimberly Road, Davenport.

Genevieve Swarts of Bettendorf said the CarFit session she attended in July helped her to become better educated in terms of driving safely. She has a newer-model car, and after going through the checkup in a hospital parking lot, she learned more effective ways to use the side mirrors.

"In this car, I don't have the visibility that I used to have before," she explained.

Safe drivers

Older drivers are some of the safest drivers on the road. They drive fewer miles than other age groups, Cluff said, but they also use safety belts habitually and do not engage as often in risky behavior - such as using a cellphone, texting while driving, or drinking and driving - as drivers in younger demographic groups.

However, older bones are more frail, and if an accident happens, older adults are more likely to suffer serious injury.

"Older drivers can improve their safety by ensuring their cars are properly adjusted for them," Cluff said. "A proper fit in a car not only improves the driver's safety but also the safety of others."

A 20-minute commitment

The checkup is a review of 12 key areas in a vehicle. Each appointment takes about 20 minutes. Items that pertain to on-the-road safety include:

- Car mirrors. Knowing how to properly adjust the mirrors greatly minimizes blind spots for the driver when changing lanes.

- Foot position on the pedals. The right placement for the gas pedal and brake is important because drivers who have to reach to press them can experience leg fatigue and slow reaction time.

- Seat distance from the steering wheel. Drivers run a risk of serious injury if they sit less than 10 inches from the steering wheel.

About one-third of seniors who have taken a CarFit checkup have had at least one critical safety issue identified. One in 10 sat too close to the steering wheel and 20 percent did not have a line of sight at least 3 inches above it.

Swarts, who took the checkup in July, said she would recommend the process to a friend if asked.

"I would tell about it," she said. "The people who run it are nice and very pleasant."

Some things in a car are taken for granted because they are so familiar, Bob Willis said.

"It's good to get a safety review," he added.


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