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The facts on older adult drivers

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 33 million licensed drivers age 65 and older in the U.S. in 2009.

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Driving helps all of us, but especially older adults, stay mobile and independent. The risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash increases as you age. An average of 500 older adults are injured every day in crashes.

Who is most at risk? Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase starting at age 75 and increase notably after age 80. This is largely due to increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications among older drivers rather than an increased tendency to get into crashes.

Age-related declines in vision and cognitive functioning, as well as physical changes, may affect some older adults' driving abilities.

As we age, it's normal for driving abilities to change. By reducing risk factors and incorporating safe driving practices, many of us can continue driving safely long into our senior years.

But we do have to pay attention to warning signs that age is interfering with our driving safety and make appropriate adjustments.

Even if you find that you need to reduce your driving or give up the keys, it doesn't mean the end of your independence. Seeking alternative methods of transportation can offer health and social benefits, as well as a welcome change of pace to life.

INJURY PREVENTION

--Always use seat belts.

--Drive when conditions are the safest. Limit driving during bad weather and rush hours.

--Don't drink and drive. Know what drinking alcohol can do to affect your medications.

--Exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility.

--Review medications with your doctor to reduce side effects and interactions.

--Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year.

--Drive during daylight and in good weather. Find the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows and easy parking.

--Plan your route before you start driving.

--Leave a large following distance between you and the car in front of you.

--Avoid distractions in the car. Do not talk on your cell phone, text or eat while driving.

--Use public transit or ride with a friend when you don't feel comfortable driving.

--Have your hearing checked. Make sure you can hear sirens, etc.

--Get plenty of sleep.

--Choose a vehicle that is appropriate for you. Choose one with an automatic transmission, power brakes and power steering. Make sure you know how to make adjustments to the seat, mirrors, etc.

--If relatives, friends or others begin to talk to you about your driving, it may be time to take an honest look at your driving ability.

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