Does your mom or dad’s car suddenly have more dents and scrapes than usual? Have they recently been ticketed for several traffic violations, putting an end to their streak of flawless driving? If so, it may be time for you to discuss reducing their time behind the wheel — or stop driving altogether.
Asking your older parent to stop driving can be extremely difficult. In fact, a survey conducted by Pfizer and Generations United found more respondents said the hardest conversation they had with their senior parents was not their finances, final wishes, or wills. It was about driving.
Seven helpful tips to talk about taking away the car keys
If it’s time for your aging parent to give up their keys, consider these seven tips to help your conversation go a little smoother.
1. Be sympathetic
For most adults, driving is an essential form of freedom. It’s important to recognize that you aren’t just asking your parent to give up their keys. You are asking that they radically change their lifestyle. If they can’t drive, they may have to alter their daily routines, who they see, and the places they go.
No one likes it when someone tells them they shouldn’t do something anymore, even if they already know it themselves. You may be met with frustration, hostility, or denial. Remember to remain calm and keep your emotions in check. A family meeting to talk with your parents may make them feel as though everyone is ganging up on them — instead, ask a trusted family member to have a one-on-one talk with them.
2. Know the facts
One ticket doesn’t necessarily mean your parent should stop driving. An empty claim that they’re an unsafe driver will likely fall on deaf ears. Ride with them and take note of any behaviors that seem unsafe so that you have specific examples to point to when you explain why they should no longer be behind the wheel.
It’s important to also have a clear picture of your parent’s health. How did they perform on their most recent eye exam? What medications are they taking? Can any of them affect their driving?
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Has their doctor recommended that they limit their time driving? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you have an informed conversation.
3. Research transportation alternatives
Before you ask for your loved one’s keys, come up with a plan for how they will manage without a car. Research transportation options near your parent’s home and the areas they go to the most.
Find out whether your community offers seniors special low-cost transportation services or discounted fares on public transportation. Your county’s Area Agency on Aging can connect you with available local programs.
If public transportation isn’t an option, ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft can be a convenient option. Consider getting your parent a smartphone (if they don’t have one already). Then offer to ride along with them on a few trips so they can see how ridesharing works. If money is a concern for your parent, see if you can add family members to your account so that they can help cover the cost.
Family and friends
Family and friends may also be able to fill in any transportation gaps. Consider picking a day of the week when you or another family member is available to drive your parent around to do errands and meet up with friends. Plus, with services like Amazon Prime and other regional grocery and pharmaceutical delivery options, your parent can get almost everything they need to be mailed to them.
Transportation to medical visits
Although the pandemic has spurred the development of virtual alternatives to in-person medical appointments, some conditions may require in-person medical visits. Explore the options for free or low-cost transportation with their doctor’s office or health system. Check with locally available rideshare options – some offer transport in specially equipped vehicles with drivers trained to deal with limitations due to age or infirmity. Also, explore the availability of free, volunteer-run transportation options. Many nonprofits, like the American Cancer Society, offer free transportation and many churches offer rides to medical appointments as well.
After researching all these options, you will be better equipped to respond to your parent’s claims that they have to drive.
4. Take the long-term approach
It takes time to get comfortable with the idea of a major lifestyle change. So don’t expect your parent to agree with you the first time you suggest they stop driving. Give them some space between each conversation. This will allow them to process the information and cool off.
It helps if you don’t wait until they’ve gotten into an accident to point out a decline in their driving capabilities. Whether it’s a new medical diagnosis or declining eyesight, start the conversation as soon as you see the first signs of aging. Start small by suggesting they give up driving long distances, in inclement weather, or at night.
After a period of time, it may make sense for your parents to drive only in familiar neighborhoods and rely on family members or public transportation some of the time. If they’re driving part-time already and know that they can get around without a car, it will likely be much easier to ask them to stop driving altogether.
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5. Suggest they go to the DMV
Your word may not be enough to convince your parents to stop driving, and having a professional tell them that their skills are no longer up to par may be the push they need to use other transportation methods.
Suggest they take a refresher course for senior drivers through their local AAA or DMV. If they are confident that they can drive, they shouldn’t be worried about their ability to prove it.
In some states, a doctor can request that the DMV test a driver again if they have concerns about their ability to be safe behind the wheel. Consider asking your parent’s doctor (with permission of your loved one) if the DMV should test your mom or dad as a new driver, written tests, and all.
An occupational therapist can also evaluate your parent behind the wheel and offer a medical perspective on their ability to drive. They may suggest modifications to help them drive more safely — like larger mirrors, cushions, or hand pedals. Or they may recommend that your parent stop driving altogether.
6. Point out the consequences
The likelihood of dying as the result of a car accident sharply rises after the age of 65. This is mostly because older bodies can’t withstand hard impacts as easily as younger bodies can. Your parent likely knows that they can no longer bounce back from minor falls like they used to. Make sure they know that car accidents are no different.
If you’re really struggling to get through to your parent, point out how their decision could affect others. For example, ask your parents if they feel confident in their abilities to drive their grandkids safely around town. They may be willing to risk their safety, but the thought of their grandkids getting hurt could bring them back to reality.
7. Always remember the point of your conversations
If you are getting impatient with how long your conversations are taking, or how stubborn your parent is acting, remember why you’re having these conversations in the first place. You want them to be safe.
Finally, put yourself in your mom or dad’s shoes. When you get to be their age, how would you want your children to talk to you about your driving?
Published 12/16/18. Medically reviewed and updated 2/28/21.
Zeb Goldstein, J.D.
Zeb I. Goldstein is an attorney in the Fort Lauderdale office of the trial law firm of Morgan & Morgan. His background includes fifteen years at a prestigious insurance defense firm, representing multi-national corporations and insurance companies in trials on automobile negligence, premises liability, wrongful death, and insurance dispute claims.
Since joining Morgan & Morgan, his practice area is focused on getting the maximum recovery for the firm’s clients in personal injury claims against at-fault parties, corporations, and insurance companies.
Zeb was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, where he graduated from the All-Honors Program at Canisius College in 1998 with degrees in Political Science, Finance, and English.
He received his Juris Doctor, cum laude, from the Nova Southeastern University Law School in 2002. He is a member of both the Florida Bar and the Federal Bar of the Southern District of Florida.
In addition to the current story, Mr. Goldstein has published other stories about driving safety, including:
8 Tips to Minimize Distractions When Driving with a Newborn
When he is away from the courtroom, Zeb enjoys spending time with his family, cooking, exercising, going to the beach, and attending his children’s school events. His wife Claudine is also an attorney.
This is all good advice. I have been considering this with my mom. Not necessarily because of the above points. But because she has recently been diagnosed with dementia. We are afraid she may get lost while driving and not know her way home, or not know how to get ahold of use if something happens. She has been losing track of time and forgetting things more and more frequently.
I hope for your Mom’s sake and the sake of others on the road, you address this expeditiously. Perhaps your Mom’s doctor can help you with this.
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