Safety warning: Car accessories could increase risk of injury in older drivers

Many older drivers use seat cushions, pillows and other accessories to improve comfort while driving, but new research shows this could increase the risk of injury. Source: Getty

If you’ve ever been on a long car journey, chances are you’ve experienced discomfort and many drivers opt to use seat cushions or pillows for the trip to help alleviate any pain.

These accessories have become a staple in many cars across Australia, but new research shows they could actually increase the chance of injury during a crash – especially for older Aussies.

While many drivers customise their seats with seat base cushions, seat back cushions, back supports and head-rest cushions, researchers at the Transurban Road Safety Centre at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) conducted more than 130 crash test simulations and found a wide range of car seat accessories may actually pose health risks.

Around 25 per cent of older drivers use these aftermarket accessories to improve their comfort, but experts warn products aren’t often tested for safety and drivers may unknowingly be putting themselves at risk.

Read more: Data show older women at far greater risk of injury from a fall

The research found over-65s are nine times more likely to be seriously injured during a car accident because their increased fragility can make them more susceptible to injury. In Australia, chest injuries are the primary cause of death for older drivers, while poorly positioned seatbelts can also increase the risk of these types of injuries.

seat back cushions
Experts warn that older Aussies may increase the risk of injury if they use accessories such as seat back cushions or back support accessories. Source: Supplied to Starts at 60 by NeuRA

“The results show accessories that change the geometry of a seatbelt or the posture of a driver could increase the chance of these chest injuries in a crash,” Associate Professor Julie Brown, the joint director of the Transurban Road Safety Centre at NeuRA, said in a statement. “Our findings demonstrate the need to provide better guidance for older drivers on how to both be comfortable and safe while behind the wheel.”

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There’s currently nowhere for drivers to go to obtain information about how to safely use car accessories, with experts encouraging drivers to check whether car seats can be adjusted before considering seat base cushions, seat back cushions and other accessories.

“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,” Brown explained.

crash dummy being tested
Associate Professor Julie Brown preparing a crash test dummy at NeuRA for testing. Source: Supplied to Starts at 60 by NeuRA

The current findings are one part of a major research program into child and adult occupant safety in the Transurban Road Safety Centre and researchers will now take their findings to clinicians, motor vehicle safety experts and older drivers to develop a set of safety recommendations about how to use accessories in cars and if there are any that shouldn’t be used. The final report will be released in the form of guidelines in about six months’ time.

Read more: Australia’s big problem with chronic pain

Do you use a seat cushion or other accessories when driving? Do you think it could increase the risk of injury in the event of an accident?

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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