Building a Better Seat Belt for Seniors

Icy roads and rapidly changing winter weather makes us think carefully about how to stay safe behind the wheel.  Many believe that newer cars, with multiple air bags, crumple zones and automatic seat belts will help achieve that goal.  But older adults, who may shrink and become frail with advancing age can be injured by seat belts designed for heavier, taller drivers.

According to research from Ohio State University’s Injury Biomechanics Research Center, elderly drivers and passengers can sustain life-threatening injuries from seat belts including harm to the neck, rib fractures or a broken pelvis.

While changes to the seat belt design may be years down the line, for now, it’s important for older drivers or caregivers driving elderly passengers to take the time to properly adjust seat belts.  Lowering the height of the shoulder belt and sliding the seat as far away as possible from the front airbag can help minimize possible injury in case of an accident.  And don’t be tempted to tuck the shoulder belt under an arm to make it more comfortable.  Lower the height as low as possible and consider adding a shoulder pad for more comfort.   A seat cushion can also help raise smaller adults to a better position.

According to AAA, by 2030, it is anticipated that more than 60 million drivers in the United States will be over the age of 65.  Automakers are working on a design for inflatable seat belts that will help distribute the force from a crash better and help prevent serious injuries for older drivers and passengers.  In the meantime, seat belts are still the best protection we have to save lives on the road but watch for developments in coming years that will better meet the needs of aging drivers.

To read more about the Ohio State research, follow this link to the OSU Wexner Medical Center website.