CarFit returns to Watertown for second year

The CarFit program, an effort designed to increase and promote safety for older drivers, will return to Watertown for the second year in a row on Wednesday, Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the fire station. The event is a collaborative effort between Carver County and the Watertown Commission on Aging.

The event, part of a national educational program designed to help older drivers find out how well their vehicle “fits” them, drew about 17 participants in Watertown last year, local coordinator Jim Sandquist said. He said the event drew positive feedback in its first year, and that the program is especially beneficial in a small town like Watertown with a large aging population.

“We don’t really have that much public transportation out here,” Sandquist said. “People are pretty dependent on their cars for transportation, so we’re just trying to make that as safe and as comfortable as possible.”

CarFit, a program created by the American Society on Aging and developed in collaboration with AAA (American Automobile Association), AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association, uses a 12-point checklist to make sure drivers are as comfortable and safe as possible in their vehicle. An emphasis is placed on making sure drivers have their seats adjusted properly in terms of both height and distance from the steering wheel, and to help them adjust their mirrors in ways to reduce or eliminate blind spots.

“A lot of people may not be aware of all the adjustment on their vehicle and how the car can be made safer,” Sandquist said. “Especially if there are two licensed drivers driving the same vehicle, whatever is comfortable for one driver may not be comfortable for the second driver.”

Sandquist emphasized that the program is in no way designed as a test or an evaluation. Nobody is making an assessment on how fit somebody is to drive. Instead, the aim is to make people safer in their own cars. For instance, having the steering wheel pointed too high can be dangerous for drivers if the air bag deploys, and is one of the most common corrections made during the roughly 20 minute appointment.

At the appointment, in addition to having a trained technician ask simple questions and go over the checklist, there will also be physical therapists on hand. Their role is to help suggest products or accessories to drivers that may make it easier for them to get in and out of the car, to reach the gas pedals, to sit high enough in the seat, or simply to make them more comfortable in the car.
Sandquist also emphasized that there is no minimum age for the program.

“Anyone is welcome,” he said. “When it came out it was geared toward seniors, but it actually can be helpful for any age.”

Reservations are required, and a maximum of 30 people will be accepted for the event. Register by calling the Watertown Mayer Community Education office at 952-955-0280. The event is free to all registrants.