How to Know When Your Parents Should Stop Driving

For CaregiversFor Families

Driving is one of the greatest symbols of independence and control we enjoy. So just how do you know when your parents should stop driving?

Giving it up wouldn’t be easy. And when the time comes to talk to your aging parents or loved ones about giving up driving, well, we understand how difficult that can be.

In fact, according to a Caring.com Mature Drivers Survey conducted in partnership with the National Safety Council, asking an elderly parent or loved one to stop driving was more difficult to talk about than touchy topics like final wishes, finances or selling the house.

Signs It May Be Time to Hang Up the Keys

Age alone doesn’t make a driver unsafe. Medical conditions and physical and cognitive skills all play an important role in deciding when it’s time to hand over the keys. An important first step to help recognize the right time is to go for a ride and observe their skills. Keep a mental record of any problematic habits and write them down once you’re alone. Sharing actual problems you see rather than speaking in generalities can be an essential part of the conversation.

According to the AARP, there are a number of warning signs to look for that may signal it’s time for your elderly parent or loved one to put on the brakes. They include:

  • Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
  • Frequent dings, dents and scrapes on the vehicle
  • Delayed response to unexpected situations
  • Getting lost, especially in familiar locations
  • Becoming easily distracted or difficulty concentrating
  • Having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic
  • Hitting curbs when making right turns or backing up
  • Having frequent close calls

7 Helpful Tips on How to Start the Conversation

1. Begin Early
Don’t wait until something serious happens like an accident or major medical issue and don’t expect your parent or loved one to agree with you the first time you suggest giving up driving. Start when the warning signs are mild and start small. Suggest they give up driving long distance, at night, in rush hour or bad weather. If they start driving part-time now and know that they can get around without a car, giving up driving altogether will be much easier when the time comes.

2. Be Understanding
Giving up the freedom of driving is a radical lifestyle change. So put yourself in their shoes and keep it casual. Admit that it’s not easy and be respectful when broaching the subject.

You can say, “Dad, I know this must be hard for you, but we need to talk about your driving”. Then share whatever incidents you’ve noticed in a non-judgmental way that has led to this talk. Getting their input is important, too. Ask if they’ve noticed any changes in their driving skills and what they think should be done.
If you’re met with frustration, hostility or denial, remain calm and keep your emotions in check. Having compassion and understanding will go a long way in letting your parents know you care about their safety, not about taking away their self-reliance.

3. Talk With Your Family
It’s important to include family members and close, personal friends in on the subject of driving before you speak with your aging parent or loved one. If you’re all worried and on the same page, it may be enough to convince your aging parent to give up the keys.
However, do not use a family meeting to hold the talk with your parents. It could make them feel as though everyone is ganging up on them and cause confrontation. Instead, initiate the conversation yourself or ask a trusted family member or friend who relates well with them to have a one-on-one talk.

4. Visit the DMV
If your talk or multiple talks with your aging parent or loved one isn’t going so well, suggest a visit to your local DMV. They can take a driving and vision test or a refresher course for senior drivers. If they’re not worried about their driving skills, they should be confident about their ability to prove it. However, be ready for the possibility that they might pass their test, and if you still see them making dangerous mistakes on the road, you may be heading for an even more difficult discussion in the near future.

5. Provide Transportation Alternatives
Losing independence and being trapped in the house is a big fear for seniors who are considering giving up driving. It’s important to make it clear that s not the end of their weekly bridge game, meeting up with friends, attending church, going shopping or doing all the things they love to do. Know, too, that you and other relatives may have to divvy up some ride sharing duties.

Transportation Options to Consider:

  • Explore local bus, subway or train routes. Some communities even offer seniors a discounted fare.
  • Hiring a driver or taxi service is a good option but can be expensive.
  • Ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft are convenient, but seniors may be a little leery about these new services. Offer to ride along with them on a few trips so they can see how ridesharing works.
  • Many senior living communities offer convenient and regularly scheduled transportation to medical appointments, shopping and community events and programs.
  • Services like Amazon Prime, Instacart, GrubHub and grocery and pharmaceutical delivery options can deliver almost everything right to your parent’s door.
  • Look for free community-based senior transport services. Many nonprofits, like the American Cancer Society and churches, offer free transportation to medical appointments.

6. It’s Not Just About Them
If you’re really having a hard time getting through to your parent, point out the effects their decision could have on others. For instance, ask them 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. Besides the more obvious consequences, if they damage someone else’s property or injure another person, they risk a lawsuit and losing their hard-earned retirement savings.

Recognizing the warning signs and talking to aging parent or loved one may not be easy. However, if you start early and plan ahead with the right understanding, the conversation can be successful. And down the road, everyone will feel better and assured that your parents are safe and well-cared for.