There are 43 million drivers over 65 years old in the U.S. That's almost one in every five drivers, and in the next 30 years, the number of senior drivers is expected to grow by 77 percent. Unfortunately, the risk of being killed or injured in a car accident increases with age. The fatal crash rates rise significantly starting at ages 70-74 and peak for drivers 85 and older, in large part because older adults can't survive their injuries and any complications as well as younger drivers can.
Given that fact, a new study concerning seat belt safety for older adults is worth exploring. Undoubtedly, seat belts save lives--close to 14,000 a year. And older drivers are more likely to use them than any other age group, which is great in general. But there's a problem: seat belts are generally designed for an average middle-aged man. They don't fit a lot of people the way they should.
What does a poor-fitting seat belt do?
A seat belt designed to use enough force to keep someone younger or taller in place will be too intense for someone older and shorter. This means that when a collision occurs, an older driver's body can shift more violently. This extra movement caused by the force of the seatbelt can lead to concussions, neck and back injuries, broken ribs and deadly chest injuries. Because older and smaller adults generally have more fragility to their frames, it doesn't take as much force to break them.
So...should I still wear a seat belt?
Definitely! Everyone should continue to wear a seat belt. But try these suggestions to make your ride safer: adjust the height of the seatbelt shoulder strap by sliding it lower so that it rests on your clavicle, which will stand up to force better than your ribs. Also, try to keep a minimum distance of 10 to 12 inches from the steering wheel, to be farther away from the air bag.
The researchers working on this problem hope to create seat belts that automatically adjust to the size and weight of each person in a car. Won't that be amazing?