Experts develop guidelines on use of car support cushions

Older drivers who use support devices to make themselves more comfortable when they’re behind the wheel could be increasing their risk of serious injury.

Driver safety experts are developing a set of guidelines on the use of support cushions by older people after research showed this can put them at risk of injury in the case of a crash.

Older drivers who use seat cushions and other support devices to make themselves more comfortable when they’re behind the wheel could actually be increasing their risk of serious injury, the study by a team from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRa) has found.

About one in four older drivers use accessories like cushions to make driving more comfortable.

But while it’s known that poorly positioned seatbelts can increase the risk of injury, Associate Professor Julie Brown is concerned that the use of cushions, which can change seat belt positioning, hasn’t  been subjected to the same scrutiny.

Associate Professor Julie Brown with a crash test dummy.

Associate Professor Brown’s team at NeuRa’s Transurban Road Safety Centre tested a range of accessories including seat base cushions, seat back cushions  back support cushions and head rest cushions.

After putting the accessories through more than 130 crash simulations they found that some types could increase the risk of injury in a crash.

“The results show accessories that change the geometry of a seatbelt or the posture of a driver could increase the chance of chest injuries in a crash,” Associate Professor Brown said.

Some of car accessories tested by the NeuRa team.

“If a driver can adjust their seat instead of sitting on a cushion or placing something behind their back it will likely be much safer.”

People aged over 65 are nine times more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident because of increased fragility.

Chest injuries, sometimes caused or exacerbated by incorrectly positioned seatbelts, are the most common cause of car-crash related death for older drivers.

Associate Professor Brown says the first option should be to adjust seats rather than use a cushion.

“Our findings demonstrate the need to provide better guidance for older drivers on how to both be comfortable and safe while behind the wheel,” she said.

“Currently there is nowhere for people to go to get information about how to safely use these accessories.”

The research team will be taking their findings to clinicians, care safety experts and older drivers to develop safety recommendations about the use of cushions and which ones should be avoided.

They hope to have guidelines finalised by the end of the year.

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