Adults | 18 years +

Special Needs

It is important for all drivers and passengers of motor vehicles to be properly buckled on every trip. Unfortunately, using standard seat belts can be cumbersome, or even impossible, for many adults, such as older people, short or little people, and those who are overweight. There are many after-market products and “tricks of the trade” that can help adults with special needs to ride safely.

Older Adults

With the older adult population of the United States growing at a rapid pace, traffic safety advocates are concerned with highway safety issues affecting this age group. Older adults are often faced with comfort and convenience issues.

Some of the major factors to non-use of seat belts among this population include:

  • Difficulty reaching for the shoulder belt and pulling across the body.
  • Shoulder belt cuts across neck; seat belt puts pressure on skin and chest.
  • Difficulty inserting latch plate in belt buckle.
  • Belt buckle is difficult to locate.
  • The release method is confusing.
  • Seat belt is uncomfortable or difficult to use due to occupant girth and height.

DID YOU KNOW? Many newer vehicles have seat belt height adjusters. This adjuster allows you to position the shoulder belt across the middle of your shoulder and may alleviate some of the discomforts. Look for device on the shoulder belt where it attaches to your car.

In addition, problems with comfort and convenience may be exacerbated by the different types of physical limitations experienced by many older adults. Specific physical conditions that may directly influence comfort and seat belt non-use among older adults include: arthritis, shoulder, and neck pain; osteoporosis; Kyphosis; increase in fragility due to aging; presence of a pacemaker; recovery from recent surgery; obesity; or small stature. These conditions could lead to misuse and non-use among this population.

Helpful Tools

There are a variety of non-regulated devices that can help improve the ease of reach, pulling or buckling, or improve the fit of the seat belt. However, before modifying or installing any safety feature in a vehicle, owners should use caution and contact their vehicle manufacturer for recommendations. These devices vary in their design and function and include:

  • Seat belt adjuster: Positions the seat belt so it is easier to reach for fastening and so that it is positioned on the shoulder and doesn’t chafe the neck.
  • Pivoting seat: Raised disk allows for easy twisting to reach for shoulder belt, raises upper body, and results in better fit for lap and shoulder belt.
  • Shoulder belt pad: Provides padding and prevents seat belts from chafing skin and neck.
  • Ribbon or plastic loop: Permits easier reach for the seat belt and allows occupant to pull the shoulder belt toward the body without twisting of the body.

Helpful Resources

  • The AARP Driver Safety Program helps older drivers protect their safety on today's roads. AARP has offered its classroom course since 1979, and now offers the course online. Participants can tune up their driving skills and update their knowledge of the rules of the road, learn defensive driving techniques and discover ways to handle left turns, right-of-way questions, highway traffic and blind spots. For more information, visit the AARP website.
  • The CarFit program, a 20-minute assessment of older drivers in their motor vehicles, was developed by the American Society on Aging, AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association in partnership with occupational therapists and other experts in the field of older driver research. The program uses a checklist that includes a line item on seat belt use. This line item instructs the assessor to check for misuse and ease of set belt use. Among the material distributed to the older driver is a section under safety procedures that specifically addresses seat belts. For more information, visit the CarFit program website.
  • The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) initiated a GrandDriver program that focuses on the basic rules of driving, including the instruction to always use a seat belt as well as descriptions of assistive features in the vehicle including height adjustable seats and seat belt anchors. To receive the brochure, "What You Should Know about Aging and Driving," call 800-552-3402 or visit http://www.granddriver.net.

Short Statured and Little People


Little people and others who are short in stature have to make adjustments in many things they encounter in life. Wearing a seat belt and operating a motor vehicle is certainly one of the challenges they will encounter. The inability to reach the pedals, sitting too close to the steering wheel and the improper fit of the vehicle seat belt can make it nearly impossible to operate a vehicle safely without first adapting it to accommodate their unique needs.

Helpful Tools
There are a variety of aftermarket devices that can help improve the ease of reach, pulling or buckling, or improve the fit of the seat belt. However, before modifying or installing any safety feature in a vehicle, owners should use caution and contact their vehicle manufacturer for recommendations. These devices vary in their design and function and include:

  • Seat belt adjuster: Positions the seat belt so it is easier to reach for fastening and so that it is positioned on the shoulder and doesn’t chafe the neck
  • Shoulder belt pad: Provides padding and prevents seat belts from chafing skin and neck
  • Seat cushion: Raises the upper body for a better fit for the belt across the shoulder and hips
  • Pedal extender: Used by drivers who are unable to reach the gas and brake pedals or who are sitting too close to the steering wheel.

Overweight Individuals


Current federal motor vehicle standards specify that the length of seat belts is required to accommodate a 215-pound man who has a seated hip circumference of 47 inches. Government regulations for auto manufacturers don't use BMI to determine dimensions for seat belts. However, with nearly 20 percent of Americans being too large for this standard, safety is a concern. To help accommodate larger motorists, some vehicle manufacturers offer bigger belts or extenders, but other auto companies have concerns about effectiveness and liability.

Helpful Tools
There are a variety of aftermarket devices that can help improve the ease of reach, pulling or buckling, or improve the fit of the seat belt. However, before modifying or installing any safety feature in a vehicle, owners should use caution and contact their vehicle manufacturer for recommendations. These devices vary in their design and function and include:

  • Seat belt extender: Extends the buckle so that it is easier to fasten the seat belt. Note that extensions must be used carefully because they can be hazardous if used by passengers who are too small. An incorrectly sized seat belt extender could fail to provide upper body restraint and may pull the lap belt onto the abdomen during a frontal crash, possibly leading to internal injury.
  • Seat belt adjuster: Positions the seat belt so it is easier to reach for fastening and so that it is positioned on the shoulder and doesn’t chafe the neck.




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