CarFit helps ensure that seniors and their cars are fit to drive
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.
Rodney Carroll drives a bright orange Hummer that looks like it could take on anything. And that may be part of the problem. Carroll didn’t have his side mirrors in the right place, so he drove with blind spots.
“Having your mirrors adjusted properly is really important, especially in Gainesville where a lot of students ride scooters,” said Carroll, 66, an information technologist at the University of Florida and Shands who says he drives up to 50 miles a day going from one Shands facility to another.
Carroll learned about the improperly adjusted mirrors as well as a faulty left turn signal at an event Wednesday called CarFit.
The nationwide program helps ensure seniors’ cars are “fit”— and that the seniors are fit to drive them. In Florida the program has been very popular, and last year 875 drivers — the most in any state — completed it.
Wednesday’s event was held at Gainesville’s Senior Center, and after drivers checked in, University of Florida occupational therapy students went through a checklist that included testing senior drivers’ blind spots and asking them to put their seatbelt on and identify the emergency brake and emergency flashers.
The students also made sure the drivers’ head restraints and steering wheels were in the right places and that the gas pedals and brakes were reachable.
According to Fran Carlin-Rogers, a CarFit instructor, seniors can sometimes have trouble reaching for their seatbelts because of arthritis. Most need to adjust their mirrors, and oftentimes controls like turn signals or brake lights are not working.
“I had one gentleman this morning, and only one of three of his brake lights worked,” said Carlin-Rogers. “I would much rather he learned that at CarFit than get a ticket, or worse, get in a crash.”
Amber Rundall, a UF occupational therapy student helping out on Wednesday, echoed that thought. “This is a good first step before they’re pulled over,” Rundall said. “We don’t want to take their license away.”
That underlines a common misperception that has made some seniors shy away from the program in the past. But there is no one from the department of motor vehicles at the event, and no police. According to Carlin-Rogers, who is also a senior transportation consultant, “We promise we’re not going to do anything with their car they don’t want us to do.”
Rundall added, “We just want to them to be aware and to check up on them.”
Other national sponsors of CarFit include AAA, AARP, the American Society on Aging, the American Association of Retired Persons and the American Occupational Therapy Association.
CarFit also prepares seniors for not being able to drive someday, Carlin-Rogers said. “We may suggest they learn how to ride buses now — not when they have cognitive issues and can’t read a bus schedule.” Instead, Carlin-Rogers added, they can ride the bus with their grandchildren for a day and make it a positive experience.
At the end of the check-up, participants get a goodie bag with a booklet titled “Florida’s Guide for Aging Drivers” from the Florida Department of Transportation, with information on driver safety courses, self-assessment tools, and CarFit events.
Also in the bag are several gadgets to ease seniors’ driving experience, like a seatbelt extender, a handle that helps them get in and out of the car, and a swivel seat cushion that makes it easier for them to turn.
Sharon Castner was eyeing the swivel cushion Wednesday. “I don’t have the same neck or back flexibility,” the 64-year-old retired flight attendant from Archer said.
Castner decided to do the CarFit checkup after her Zumba class at the senior center because “your inabilities creep up on you.”
The last thing the drivers do is honk their horn — to make sure it works, and because honking alerts others that a car is moving, Carlin-Rogers explained.
“The drivers love it. It’s kind of like a graduation moment,” she said.
For more information on CarFit, visit www.car-fit.org/carfit/RegisterCarFit/FL.
The Florida Department of Transportation also has a website at www.SafeandMobileSeniors.org.
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.