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Senior drivers may need to take extra precautions

In some communities in the United States, public transportation and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods make owning a vehicle less important. However, for many in California, a driver's license and vehicle are key to freedom and independence. Surrendering these when health conditions become troublesome may be difficult for some seniors, but in some cases, the decision can be put off a few more years.

According to AAA, even though seniors are often safer drivers because of their experience and risk avoidance, this group still has the second highest rate of crash fatalities per mile driven, particularly after the age of 75. Part of this is due to health conditions that make it more difficult for them to operate a vehicle, such as failing vision, limited range of motion, stiff or painful joints and medication side effects. These same conditions also explain some of their higher risk of death because they also may increase vulnerability in a crash. 

The Mayo Clinic explains that senior drivers should have their vision checked regularly. Not only is declining vision a common problem, conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts could compromise a driver's ability to stay safe. A doctor may identify the point where it is no longer safe to get behind the wheel at all, but he or she might also simply suggest limiting driving to daylight hours.

Physical activity may improve flexibility and range of motion, and there are also new vehicle features that may help compensate for difficulties. An occupational therapist may provide additional assistance and advice about devices that make a vehicle more senior-friendly.

It is important for anyone taking medications to discuss whether these may affect the ability to drive safely. Some common prescription drugs seniors take have side effects that are similar to alcohol impairment. This could be magnified when medications for various health conditions are combined. 

As with any driver in any age group, seniors should put their phones away, buckle up and stay focused on the task of driving every time they get behind the wheel.

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