How to Ask an Older Adult to Stop Driving

Is it time for them to give up the car keys?

 Driving is one of our greatest expressions of independence. But for many older adults, there comes a time when age-related conditions make it impossible to drive safely.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the rate of fatal accidents per mile of driving increases steadily for drivers 65 and older.

mother handing over the keys to daughter

So how do you know if your parent, spouse, or other beloved family member or friend is no longer safe behind the wheel? And how and when do you bring up the discussion about handing over the keys and finding a new home for the car?

Warning Signs of Unsafe Driving

Age alone doesn’t mean a person needs to stop driving, so before approaching your loved one it’s important to be certain that they are no longer safe behind the wheel—and it can be tricky and subjective.

If a driver is showing these signs, it may be time to intervene:

  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Frequent fender benders or traffic tickets
  • Driving too fast or too slowly for road conditions
  • Difficulty changing lanes or staying in the correct lane
  • Becoming distracted while driving
  • Getting confused by traffic signals or how to respond in a certain situation

Consult your loved one’s physician to find out if any medical conditions or medications they are taking might impair their driving ability. You can also try asking your senior to complete a driving self-assessment test such as AAA’s free written self-assessment for drivers over age 65.

Asking someone to stop driving

If you discover that your loved one is no longer safe on the road, talk to them as soon as possible before anyone gets hurt. In beginning the conversation, remember to be prepared, patient, and empathetic.

Below are five ways you can ease the transition:

1. Include your loved one in the decision
Giving up a major freedom like driving isn’t easy, and many seniors may feel defensive and angry at the idea of giving up the keys. Sit down and express your concerns with your loved one, and ask for their opinions and feelings. Frame the transition as ‘retiring’ from driving and as a completely normal part of aging that most people will need to do at some point.

2. Share concrete examples
Before staring a conversation, make note of the reasons you feel they would be safer as a passenger. Take a short drive with them and notice any of the warning signs of unsafe driving mentioned above. When you do sit down to talk to your loved one, express that their well-being is your utmost concern.  Sharing examples will help you illustrate why you are concerned for their safety and the safety of others (for some people, the well-being of others may resonate more than their own safety).

3. Discuss alternative transportation
To ensure your loved one can remain active and engaged in their community after they stop driving, help them make a plan for alternative types of transportation. Brainstorm together the ways they can still get where they want to go. Are there public transportation options that seem feasible and convenient? Are there friends and family that would be delighted to pitch in on a regular basis? Local ride sharing programs such as Lyft or Uber can be easy and cost effective, or consider hiring a caregiver who can drive your loved one to activities and run errands.

4. Give it time
Your loved one is unlikely to decide to stop driving after one conversation, so be prepared to continue the conversation with sensitivity over time. Acknowledge that this loss of independence is coming at time in which they are likely experiencing many losses at once—of health, ability, and of friends and family members. Check in often and encourage your loved one to try other forms of transportation whenever possible.

5. Bring in a professional
If you are struggling, or just need some additional support, it can really help to bring in a professional who can explain to your aging parent or loved one the risks of driving and what the alternatives are. Seniors at Home Care Managers—who are social workers and gerontologists—are experts at facilitating these kinds of conversations and are able to provide a family consultation to help you and your family navigate difficult decisions.

To set up a consultation, or with any questions related to aging and senior care, call us at 415-449-3777 or contact us online.