How to Tell Your Aging Parent to Stop DrivingHow to Tell Your Aging Parent to Stop Driving

Nobody likes being the bearer of bad news. For a senior, being told you can’t drive anymore definitely qualifies as the worst kind of news. But sometimes it’s necessary. If your loved one has gotten increasingly sloppy with their driving skills and may be putting themselves and other drivers on the road at risk, you can’t sit idly by.

Making the decision that it’s time to take the keys away is difficult enough, but communicating that to your loved one can be even harder. In most areas of the United States, driving is associated with independence. Taking that privilege away from someone will definitely be dramatic and call for a difficult discussion. Fortunately, there are a few ways you may be able to make it sting a little less.

Start talking about it early.

If you can help it, don’t just spring the news on them out of nowhere. Start talking about it when the warning signs are mild. Point out some issues you noticed with their driving, or bring up a recent diagnosis that could point to problems down the line, and talk about the fact that the day is coming when they should probably give up driving.

You’ll both likely find the process easier if your loved one can ease into it. When you start to see a problem, consider asking them if they’d agree not to drive in bad weather or at night, or to only drive short distances. If they get used to working within those limitations, the switch to no driving won’t feel quite as dramatic when the time comes.

Give them the chance to take the test.

It really is hard to know for sure when the time’s come – for both you and them. If there’s any doubt, or if your loved one is insistent that they’re fine and needs some extra convincing, head down to the DMV. They can take a driving test and vision test and if they fail, the decision will be taken out of your hands and they’ll have to accept the results. Be prepared that they might pass though, and if you still see them making dangerous driving mistakes, you may have an even more difficult discussion on your hands later.

Explain the risks.

On a certain level, they know the risks, but they don’t want to think about them. Discuss how a wreck could affect them physically, mentally, monetarily – and worse – morally, if someone else gets hurt. On top of all the more obvious consequences, if they cause damage to someone else’s property or injury to another person, they could be sued and risk losing their hard-earned retirement savings.

Emphasize that it’s not just about them.

If they hurt themselves, that affects their family and loved ones. If they hurt another person, that affects their family and loved ones. The consequences of a car accident can be extremely far reaching. This isn’t a decision that can just be about what they want.

Be stern – it’s not a negotiation.

If you’re at the point where you can still negotiate without much risk (as in our suggestions above about only daytime driving, etc.), then feel free. If you’ve reached the point where you’re worried your loved one’s driving is too much of a risk for that, then you have to be stern. Feeling responsible for their anger today is better than feeling responsible for a wreck later.

Provide alternatives.

Taking the car away won’t just be a sacrifice for the senior, you and the rest of their loved ones will have to pick up some of the slack and start giving more rides. Make it clear that this isn’t the end of their being able to make it to their weekly book club or get groceries, have a plan for attending to that stuff in advance. Loved ones should commit to regular trips – Suzy agrees to drive her to church every week, Joe is in charge of trips to the pharmacy, for example. And provide information on other alternatives your loved one can take advantage of:

  • Learn the routes of the local bus or subway system
  • Look into local ride share options
  • Consider a senior living community with transportation options
  • Services like Amazon, Instacart and GrubHub can help decrease the need for running errands, where available
  • See if there’s a family friend or local high schooler who wouldn’t mind making a little cash in exchange for running errands or providing rides

Losing driving access isn’t the end of the world, but it will be a difficult transition. Work to make it as easy on your loved one as possible and be prepared to field some anger and frustration. Ensuring the safety of your loved one is worth it.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiousity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for SeniorAdvisor.com.

7 Comments

  1. James August 14, 2015 Reply

    When it comes to driving later in life, it is better to quit a year or two early than one second too late……having said that, it’s often not a yes or no decision when it comes to curtailing driving due to the aging process or physical disabilty(at any age).
    Many older drivers can continue driving with the recognition that they should restrict themselves to daytime only driving to familiar places and no more road trips. New model vehicles have active and passive features that enhance safety.
    I recently was able to assist my 92 year old father in completing a comprehensive driving assessment. He was of of course concerned that his children wanted to take they keys away from him- after many years of accident free driving. He was resistant. I found that by taking the approach that we wanted him to continue to drive SAFELY as long as possible, decreased his concerns. I was able to schedule him to be seen by a trained Occupational Therapist. The evaluation took about 3-4 hours and was quite comprehensive: physical assessment including orthopedic limitations and range of motion, visual spacial depth perception, peripheral vision, reaction time, a written rules of the road test, basic cognitive eval. If the driver is found to be competent to drive so far, he is taken out for an hour long driving test, first to familiar destinations from home like church and the grocery store. Then Dad was taken on the highway to less familiar environs.. His recommendation was that he was safe to drive in daylight to familiar places. No night driving, no road trips. He was happy with the outcome and committed to ongoing annual assessments.
    The key in the process was to not take an adversarial approach, but a collaborative one with the goal of allowing him to continue driving as long as possible.
    Sometimes it’s obvious that driving breeds to stop, sometimes less so……..

    • Amelia Willson August 17, 2015 Reply

      James, thank you so much for reading and for sharing your experience. I’m so happy to hear that you and your dad were able to come to an agreement that keeps him safe but also empowers him to drive when he’s able to.

  2. Joyce Clegg February 4, 2019 Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. It gives our Dad and my family an idea what to do next. I will talk to an occupational therapist in our area (South Central New York), and talk to our Dad about this. Again – most informative & helpful.

  3. Elspeth July 20, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for a very helpful article. There is something that you did not address, and that is when your parent refuses to cooperate with any of the suggestions. My mother is in her early 70’s and recently had an accident. Single vehicle crash and she was fine (just lost the vehicle), but now people are telling me that I have to stop her from driving anymore. I have tried for the last few years to talk with her about this but she refuses to listen. She is very independent and gets mad at anyone who says something that hints at a lost of that independence. People seem to think that I can just take her drivers license away, but my understanding is that the police/courts are the only ones who can do that and it is not something that I can “make happen”. Does anyone know if I’m wrong?

  4. Anne August 8, 2019 Reply

    I have the same question as Elspeth, as I am in a similar situation with my 87 y/o father. My father has moderate to severe dementia, and I share joint powers of attorney with my sister. I was told by a local policeman that, in order to take away his keys, we may need a full evaluation by a neurologist, even though he was evaluated as having dementia while in the hospital ( and then rehabilitation ) after a fall (femur break) last year. After returning home from rehab, and receiving services from Home Health OT / PT / and Nursing, the same evaluation was made… that he has moderate to severe dementia. However, he will NOT voluntarily see a neurologist for an evaluation, and his PCP doesn’t want to ‘hurt his feelings’ by giving a referral ( and kindly ASKING HIM TO SEE A NEUROLOGIST ). He adamantly refuses to give up his keys, although he is incapable of driving, and also refuses to take a driver’s test ( for obvious reasons ) to ‘prove’ that he is safe to be on the road. He is fully aware of his diagnosis, and doesn’t seem to care whether or not he injures anyone. I know this is a slippery-slope, and I am increasingly more nervous as the days go by, that he will injure someone else with his car. I have had MANY conversations with him, and so have other family members, to no avail! My power of attorney seems to be somewhat useless in many ways, without a full evaluation. I’m sure the laws vary from State to State, but taking his keys away is proving to be a difficult yet necessary task. I suppose, Elspeth, that you, like me, are going to have to consult with someone who deals in Elder Law.

  5. Connie C. September 11, 2019 Reply

    My Mother has Macular Degeneration. She is 93 and was just told by her Retina Doctor to stop driving! I’ve had many talks with her about this very thing but she absolutely refuses to stop driving. Her license is valid until April, 2020. She lives in FL and I live in Michigan. What can I do to convince her to stop driving???

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