Surely there's a better solution for short person than sitting on a phone book while driving...?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

Shame on you! Suggesting a loose pillow for Kate, the reader who's seat belt cut across her neck because she's short ("altitudinally challenged," as you put it). We short people are probably 1/4 of the population. Seats and restraints in our size should be available. A loose pillow slides over when you try to sit on it, works its way out from under you while you drive, and tries to follow you out of the car. You need to have one of them stuffed down your gullets! You guessed it...loose pillows are one of my pet peeves, along with everything male engineers have designed on the assumption that everyone is between 5'6" and 6'6". For about $35.00, I was able to get foam cushion and upholstery material and redo my car seats myself (it would have cost about $75.00 to have the upholstery shop do it). Now, when I drive, I can see, and the shoulder harness only cuts across my neck, not my left eye. This is acceptable, but seats sized for us ought to be available, damn it!
(All five furious feet of me)

TOM: Wow, Rachel, lighten up! I don't even remember recommending a loose pillow to Kate. I thought we told her to try sitting on a copy of the Manhattan yellow pages.

RAY: Actually, your observation is absolutely right, Rachel. Manufacturers don't build cars for people on the "fringes." And don't forget, folks who are 6'6" have just as hard a time as you do...maybe harder, since they have to put their pillows on their heads to keep from getting concussions. I guess it costs more than it's worth to make every car fit absolutely everybody.

TOM: So that means people like you have to look a lot harder to find the right car. People who are extraordinary in some way--as you evidently are-- have always had to put up with a lot of hassle. I have the same problem, because of my IQ.

RAY: Yeah. There aren't many in the single digits.

TOM: Anyway, Rachel, given the limitations of the marketplace, here are some ideas that may help you get more comfortable behind the wheel. If you're buying a new car, the best option to look for is a height adjustable six-way power seat. Unfortunately, they're not available on all cars, and if they are, they're usually pretty expensive.

RAY: Some new cars also come with adjustable height shoulder harnesses, so that top of the shoulder harness (the part that attaches to the door pillar) can be moved up and down. It's not available on all that many cars right now, but it should be more common in the next few years

TOM: If you can't get a car with an adjustable shoulder harness, and the thing still cuts across your throat or your eyeballs, we've seen a couple of inexpensive clip-on "adjusters" that simply pull the shoulder portion of the belt down closer to the lap belt, keeping it away from your neck.

RAY: NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) says that when you use one of these clip-on devices, you increase the amount of "slack" in the belt, and that makes it slightly less effective. But if that means that you'll wear the belt, then by all means, get one and use it.

TOM: Actually, my brother recently started using one of these seat belt adjusters. I tried to talk him out of it for a long time. His problem was that his shoulder belt cut right across his mouth. Now he's much more comfortable, but I really miss the peace and quiet.

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