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Randi Vandale, occupational therapist and CarFit coordinator, instructs a group of OT students.

CarFit: OT students learn to keep drivers safe on the road

May 2, 2016 — 

Can you see clearly out your car windows? Are you able to reach all the controls and adjust the seatbelts so they’re secure and comfortable? For many older Manitobans, these are issues that can have an impact on their driving.

Last week a group of occupational therapy students in the College of Rehabilitation Sciences in the Faculty of Health Sciences at U of M spent an afternoon in a parking lot at the Bannatyne campus learning about these issues as part of the CarFit program. CarFit is an educational initiative that provides a quick, comprehensive review of how drivers – particularly older ones – work together with their vehicles. Originally developed in the United States, the CarFit program operates as a partnership between the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT) and the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).

For Randi Vandale, an occupational therapist and CarFit coordinator, the program can provide help and tips for the older driving demographic.

“CarFit often benefits elderly or aging adults looking for more information to help them drive safely,” Vandale said. “It could be drivers of any age, but usually those who are starting to question or feel a little bit iffy on the road.”

Older adults currently represent the fastest growing portion of the driving population, with roughly 2.7 million drivers over the age of 65 on Canadian roads today. Research suggests that older drivers are among the safest on the road but as people age, they’re more likely to suffer serious injuries due to greater fragility.

For Lisa Diamond-Burchuk, an instructor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, CarFit provides a comprehensive approach to what students are already learning in the classroom.

“Students take the CarFit program as part of the Occupational Analysis course where they’ve been learning how to apply the client’s anatomy to the demands of the task and the environment of the car and how it fits,” she said. “This is the perfect way of pulling it all together for them because they have to consider the anatomy, they have to consider what’s required in order to drive, and they have to consider the condition of the car that’s being driven.”

For occupational therapy students like Emilie Britton, CarFit also shows how they will be able to help their clients as future health care professionals.

“It’s really nice to be able to see the skills we’re learning in the classroom and apply it in a real life situation and to see how clients’ disabilities may have an impact on their ability to drive,” Britton said. “It’s interesting that the ergonomics that we learned for a home environment can be applied into a vehicle environment.”

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