Whether you’re strapping yourself in or securing a child in a car seat, arthritis can make one of your car’s most important safety features a pain. Elin Schold Davis, an occupational therapist (OT) and project coordinator for the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Older Driver Initiative, offers these tips to make fastening and unfastening seat belts a cinch.
Give it a test run. Seat belt buckles come in different sizes, shapes and positions that can affect ease of buckling. If you have trouble with your buckle, practice with it before you hit the road. Similarly, if you get a new child’s car seat, take some time to work with the buckle before you add a squirming child.
Extend your reach. Changing the angle of the belt may make it easier to reach and buckle, says Schold Davis. Contact your car’s manufacturer about seat belt extenders, or find one at an auto parts store or online (walmart.com, seatbeltextenderpros.com). For children in booster seats, extenders may help position the buckle so the child can fasten it him or herself.
Spare small joints. Instead of pushing seat belt releases with your thumb or index finger, use your palm, if possible, or experiment with household items that can make it easier. For example, keep a wooden spoon in your car and use your whole hand to hold the spoon end while using the handle to press the release button.
Go for gadgets. Schold Davis’ favorite gadget for opening and closing a seat belt is UnbuckleMe ($15) which slides over a child’s car seat buckle and takes half as much force to unbuckle it. Another to try: the Car Seat Key ($15), a portable U-shaped device designed to make unbuckling any seat belt easier. For easier fastening, try a device that holds buckle receivers in an upright position, like Wididi Buckle Up ($14 for 2).
Ask an OT. If these options don’t work for you, get help from an OT, (Occupational Therapist) who can fabricate a special splint, or a driving rehabilitation specialist, who can recommend techniques tailored especially for you.