Handling a car can pose safety problems for petite drivers. We consider four such issues and recommend solutions to each.
As cars are generally designed for people of average height, they can pose safety challenges to drivers who are vertically limited. These challenges range from injuries caused by entering and exiting the car to reduced visibility, airbag injuries and seatbelt issues.
ENTERING & EXITING
According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), falls caused by entering and exiting a vehicle is one of the three top causes of non-accident-related injuries.
As shorter people have less leverage when getting on or off a vehicle, they are more vulnerable. The biggest danger comes from slipping from the step of larger cars when entering or exiting vehicles like SUVs that could result in a sprained or broken ankle, among other injuries.
Where possible, use three points of contact when entering and exiting the car. When climbing in, have your hands on two positions, and use each step (if there are more than one). Having at least three limbs connected to the car will make it easier for you to catch yourself from falling.
Another issue for petite drivers is the inability to see the nose of your car when judging distance, especially when parking or pulling up behind another car. If you’re sitting too low, you won’t be able to see the front of your car, and will end up having to estimate the distance. Should you be off the mark, you’re likely to rear-end someone or hit something while parking.
The good news is that newer models have adjustable steering wheels and height-adjustable seats, both of which allow you to position yourself for optimum visibility. If you’re driving an older model, prop yourself higher on a seat cushion or two so that you have a clear view of the nose of your car.
Drivers who sit too close to the steering wheel are at risk of serious injuries caused by the force of airbags inflating. NHSTA recommends keeping a distance of 10 inches (25cm) between the airbag and the centre of a driver’s breastbone — this can be problematic for drivers of shorter stature.
Airbag safety can be improved by moving your seat as far back as possible while still being able to reach the pedals comfortably, recommends NHSTA. If your steering wheel is adjustable, you could also tilt it down so that the airbag is pointed towards your chest rather than your head and neck.
SEAT BELT ISSUES
For it to work effectively, a car’s seat belt should fit snugly across the pelvis, and the shoulder strap cross over the shoulder. For a smaller-sized person, the shoulder strap could end up sitting across his or her neck — this can result in serious injuries in an accident.
If your shoulder strap does not have an adjustment to accommodate you, consider getting a seat belt adjuster. Before purchasing the seat belt adjuster, do check that it has been crash-tested for safety first.
Safety while on the road is something drivers should never compromise on. If you are vertically challenged, it doesn’t mean you can’t drive; you just need to take extra steps to ensure that you’re safe behind the wheel.