Driving a vehicle is full of challenges for short people – challenges that can affect your safety. While you can learn to live with the difficulties, you’ll be much safer if you address them early on in your driving career so that those good habits stick with you. Good driving habits are often formed early, so get it right while you’re young!
Cars Are Made For “Average” Sized People
Cars are made for “average” people. Automotive companies find out the average measurements of a particular target customer for each particular car they make, then design it as close to the average as possible.
But of course, most of us are not average – we’re all unique! While most people only deviate slightly from the average (few inches taller or shorter, a little bit heavier or lighter, etc.), some of us are built a little more…. special.
Driving presents some unique benefits as well as challenges to both very tall and very short drivers. In this guide, we’ll focus on how to be a better and safer driver as a shorter individual.
Am I Too Short To Drive?
If you’re asking yourself this question, I first would like to say a personal “thank you.” By asking this question and researching it, you’re proving to be a considerate driver who is not only concerned with your own safety, but the safety of those you share the road with. We need more drivers like you. So, thank you.
From a legal standpoint, there are no laws in any state that have laws regarding minimum height for drivers. You DO need to pass all vision, health, and safety requirements, but no government or law enforcement agency in the United States can prohibit your from driving simply based on how tall or short you are.
From a physical standpoint, nobody is too short to drive. Depending on how short you are, you may need adaptive devices to help you operate a motor vehicle safely, but these devices are readily available or can usually be manufactured. Cost may be the limiting factor for you if you need significant alterations to your vehicle. However, in most cases, any needed modifications to a vehicle will be reasonably priced.
So from both a legal and physical standpoint, no, you are not too short to drive. While you may have other issues that prevent you from driving, your height alone is not a problem.
VIDEO: How Little People Drive
Specific Types Of Challenges For Short Drivers
If you’ve been driving for a while, you’re probably already well aware of the challenges. But let’s quickly go over them for those who are maybe just starting driver’s ed and have little to no driving experience.
- Entering & exiting a vehicle can be more difficult and even dangerous
- Tough to find a safe & comfortable seating position.
- Sun visor is not as effective
- Reduced visibility in most vehicles
- Headrest alignment can be tricky
- Additional airbag safety considerations
- Seat belt and shoulder strap discomfort & safety precautions
Let’s go through each of these challenges
Funny Video: Short People Problems
Entering & Exiting A Vehicle Can Actually Be Dangerous For Short People
I know what you’re thinking…
To be fair, this issue isn’t unique to just short people, but the dangers of entering and exiting a vehicle are higher for shorter people.
“Dangers?! Of entering and exiting a vehicle? Really?”
Believe it or not, according to this study performed by the NHTSA, entering or exiting a vehicle is the #1 cause of “not-in-traffic” injuries. Over 600,000 non-crash injuries requiring an emergency room visit involving passenger vehicles occur each year. That’s more than 1,640 injuries every single day, most of which are simply from entering or exiting a vehicle.
So while it’s easy to laugh off the dangers of getting into or out of a car, it really is a danger!
Obviously, the biggest danger comes with bigger vehicles. Slipping off of a step on a larger SUV can easily result in a broken or fractured ankle, for example. Since shorter people generally have less leverage to get into and out of larger vehicles, they are more prone to injuries.
So yes – entering and exiting a vehicle really is dangerous, and as a shorter driver, the dangers are even more pronounced.
Take your time and be extra careful doing this seemingly innocent and routine task. As a truck driver, we were always taught the proper way to get into and out of a truck as the #1 injury for truck drivers occur while exiting and entering the truck.
While you likely aren’t driving a big rig, the safety precautions are the same if you’re getting into and out of a larger SUV or pickup truck.
Always use 3 points of contact when possible. That means, when you’re climbing in, have your hands on two positions as you climb up, and use each step (if more than one), and always make sure at least 3 limbs are connected to the vehicle. That way, if you slip, you will be able to catch yourself (hopefully) before any injuries can occur.
I know this is super basic stuff, but did you know you’re probably getting into and out of a car the wrong way? Check out the video below to see the proper way to get into and out of a car.
VIDEO: The Proper Way To Get In & Out Of A Car
Finding A Safe And Comfortable Seating Position As A Short Driver
It doesn’t take long to learn that this is the most noticeable annoyance as a shorter driver. Cars just obviously are not made with short people in mind, and it’s more than just an annoyance – it’s a safety issue. Safety devices and proper viewing angles may not be properly aligned for short drivers, causing potential airbag injuries and vehicle blind spots.
It’s tough to give advice on how to find the proper driving position as every car is different and every person has their own preferences. It’s also not something that can be easily written out. It’s a bit better to actually see visually.
I found the below video on YouTube and agree 100% with everything said in it. As a shorter driver, you will find this to be more challenging, but try to follow these tips in the best way you can.
VIDEO: How To Find The Correct Driving Position
Sun Visors Can Be Useless For Short Drivers
For a short driver, the most dangerous time of day is at dusk or dawn when the sun is low in the sky. The vehicle’s sun visor is supposed to block the glaring sun but it simply doesn’t work unless you are tall enough. Taller drivers will have their eyes shaded by the visor while you have the full force of the sun in your eyes.
If you’re hoping to find an opaque visor extender, you’ll have a difficult time finding one. Most auto parts retailers offer transparent-colored extensions that are supposed to work like sunglasses, but even with sunglasses, you would not stare directly at the sun.
The safest option is to wear a hat with a visor. You can adjust the visor to block the sun from almost any angle. You may have a bad hair day but you will be much safer for it.
While not always practical, you should try to plan your route when the sun won’t be in your direct line of sight. This is especially true in the spring and fall when the angle of the sun is more conducive to blinding drivers.
For example, if you know the sun is setting at 7:20 pm, and you know you’ll be driving on a road-going west (the direction the sun is setting) maybe plan on getting to the grocery store at 6:20 or 8:20 instead. This is something all drivers should do, as being blinded by the sun causes thousands of car accidents every year.
VIDEO: The Dangers Of Sun Glare While Driving
Visibility Is Often Reduced For Shorter Drivers
Another issue is the ability to see the nose of your vehicle when judging distance, especially when parking or pulling up behind someone. If you are sitting too low, you can’t see the front of your vehicle and you’ll end up taking a pot shot guess at the distance. Guess wrong and you might rear-end someone at a red light, or hit something while parking.
The steering wheel is another visual obstacle for a short driver with an older model vehicle. The top of the steering wheel may be directly in front of your eyes, or you may even be looking through the steering wheel rather than over the top of it.
Newer model vehicles have adjustable steering wheels and height-adjustable seats, allowing you to position yourself for optimum visibility. Many new vehicles are also coming with adjusters for the brake and gas pedal. If you drive an older model vehicle, you should use a seat cushion to boost you up so that you can clearly see the nose of your vehicle. There are many aftermarket parts you can buy online or at automotive stores to help you sit higher in the seat as well.
Headrests Usually Aren’t Aligned Properly
Another serious issue for short people is the headrest. It’s not always made to adjust to a shorter person and you may find your head tilted at an awkward angle.
The primary purpose of the headrest is to prevent whiplash in the event of an accident. However, neck injuries can also occur if the headrest is not properly positioned for you.
Some headrests have a very pronounced bulge that can cause your head to be in the wrong position if you are short. The center of the headrest should support the center of the back of your head, without pushing your head forward or forcing your head into an unnatural tilt, so that your head and body remain straight during an accident.
If the bulge in the headrest barely touches the top of your head, this can cause a neck injury during an accident. Your back and shoulders are pushed back into the seat, but your head cannot stay in a straight line with your body as was intended. Instead, the top of your head is pushed forward by the headrest bulge, forcing your chin down into your chest.
In addition, if the headrest causes your head to tilt forward during normal driving, you lose the ability to easily turn your head to keep an eye on surrounding traffic.
Look for a vehicle with an adjustable headrest that tilts as well as raises and lowers. If your existing vehicle doesn’t give proper support to your head and neck, your local junkyard may have a headrest that offers better support.
As an alternative, you can pop the headrest out and turn it back to avoid the bulge. If the headrest doesn’t touch the back of your head in the altered position, you can bind towels to the headrest until you’ve achieved the proper support for safety. Just be sure to reference your vehicle’s owner’s manual and you may want to talk to a mechanic to make sure you aren’t causing any potential dangers to be worse.
The Likelihood Of Injuries From Airbags Is Higher For Short People
Another safety issue is your distance from the air bag. Tall drivers sit farther back and are less impacted by the air bag during an accident. Short drivers sit very close to the air bag and can be injured by the air bag itself during an accident.
The air bag is not a cushy pillow. It blasts from the dashboard or steering wheel at up to 200 miles per hour and if you are sitting too close to it, you can suffer air bag injuries.
A 2009 brochure published by the U. S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated that while seat belts and airbags prevent 75% of head injuries and 66% of chest injuries, a small percentage of people die from injuries caused by the airbags themselves.
The one common denominator in all of the deaths was the person’s proximity to the airbag when it opened. Short drivers don’t always have the luxury of moving the seat far enough back for an airbag safety zone. You have to be able to reach the floor pedals to drive.
On-off air bag switches are recommended if it is not possible for you to maintain a distance of 10 inches between the center of your breastbone and the air bag. While 2-3 inches is the primary risk zone, 10 inches allows for a safety margin.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety determined that two out of three short women drivers already position themselves at least 10 inches from the airbag, though the findings did vary depending on vehicle size. They found that 40% of short women driving medium to large vehicles did sit closer than 10 inches, compared to 27% who drove small cars.
On-off switches allow you to disable the airbag if you are at high risk of airbag injury. In order to get an on-off switch, you must fill out an official NHTSA request form. Once approved, the NHTSA will send you an authorization letter which you can take to a dealership or repair shop. They cannot legally install the switch without proper authorization.
Before you apply for an on-off switch, consider other ways of putting distance between you and the air bag. Some newer vehicles come with foot pedals that are adjustable for the length of your legs. Pedal extenders are available for older vehicles, though their safety has not been studied.
Seat Belt and Shoulder Strap Safety & Discomfort For Short Drivers
Your seat belt should fit snugly across your pelvis, and the shoulder strap should cross over your shoulder. For a short person, the shoulder strap can end up across your neck which can cause serious injuries during an accident.
If your shoulder strap does not have an adjustment to accommodate you, consider investing in a seat belt adjuster. There are a variety of sturdy styles that go far beyond the cheap plastic clips, including some made for children which may be a good choice for a small adult.
Whichever style you choose, make sure it has been crash-tested for safety. If your local auto parts store does not offer a good variety, you can find one online by searching for “seatbelt adjuster.” Amazon has them in a large variety of styles.
While this is a larger issue for taller people, in some seating positions the seatbelt may rub your neck in an uncomfortable way. You can get a shoulder strap pad to keep the seat belt from cutting into your neck.
12 Best Cars For Short People
If you’re in the market for a car, here is a list of the 10 best cars for short people that you should consider.
- Honda Fit – Basically built for short people & very affordable.
- Mercedes-Benz S Class – Extremely customizable with automated electronic positions for everything you can imagine.
- Subaru Forester – Probably the safest affordable SUV/Crossover for short drivers.
- Volvo XC90 – Higher stance for good visibility but easy to get in and out of.
- MBW X5 – Fantastic seating adjustments & good visibility.
- Lexus ES – Sporty, lower stance makes it suitable for shorter drivers. Tall drivers not so much.
- Kia Soul – Hatchback provides easy access to everything for shorter people.
- Toyota Tacoma – Besat pickup truck for short drivers due to ability to enter/exit as well as adjustable seats.
- Chevrolet Camaro – Low stance and lower/steeper windshield angel create better visor positioning and seating position for short drivers.
- Mazda MX-5 Miata – Another sporty car practically designed for short people.
- Honda Accord – Seat position can go closer than most other vehicles in its class.
- Honda Odyssey – Best van for short people due to the ease of entry/exit and highly adjustable driving positions.