This is one conversation no one wants to have with their aging parent. “Dad (or Mom), I don’t think you should be driving your car any longer”. “Please consider as I don’t want to be forced to take your keys away.” How many times have you thought about that conversation that you know is coming soon? You feel the anxiety it causes just by thinking about it. What is our responsibility and what are our concerns? We are going to talk about than is in detail and hope to provide some guidance for you on how to gently handle this situation when and if it arises. We want you to become the hero not the villain!
For some of us, the thought of telling our aging parent they can no longer drive is daunting. But it’s a conversation that needs to happen – for everyone’s safety. Driving is a privilege that should be taken away when it becomes unsafe for our parents or other drivers on the road. If you’re feeling nervous about having this conversation, read on for tips on how to make it happen.
We love our parents and want to protect them. The problem is, they’re not kids anymore-they know what’s best for themselves, right? So how do you tell your aging parent that it might be time to stop driving without hurting their feelings or making them angry? It sounds like a daunting task, but we’ve got some pointers below on how you can gently broach the subject with less risk of an ugly confrontation.
It’s hard to know when it’s time for an aging parent to stop driving. We want them to stay independent for as long as possible, but we don’t want them putting themselves or others in danger. So, how do you know when it’s time? And what should you say if it is time? We will guide you to the right time when it might be time to stop your parent from driving.
You know it’s time to tell your aging parent to stop driving when:
They start getting lost-Memory or cognition issues such as dementia may be a concern here.
Have difficulty parking in a tight space
Having trouble seeing at night or vision in general is impaired
Begin to drive much slower than the speed limit causing everyone to try and pass them or avoid them. Showing you, they are unsure when driving.
Being hard of hearing enough that they may not hear what is going on around them while driving.
Has your parent started to get tickets while driving?
Have you noticed dents in the car that may indicate small fender benders or multiple accidents?
How is their reaction time? Are they able to break for an animal in the road or stop appropriately with a change in a traffic light?
Last, but not least, you are no longer comfortable riding in the passenger seat with them.
It can be hard for them to give up the independence that comes with being able to drive their own car, so you’ll need some tactful persuasion tactics. First of all, explain why driving is not safe anymore and what could happen if they keep on driving. Be gentle this is a tough one to take. Make sure the conversation is coming from a place of concern for their safety as well as the safety of others on the road. We don’t want an accident to happen to force them to realize they shouldn’t be driving any longer.
Our mom was a hard-working woman, and we will never forget the way the school bus company handled not wanting her to drive a school bus any longer. She was in her early 70s and had worked for the school bus company for many years. The grandkids always got a kick out her driving their charters for their sporting events. She became a celebrity with the kids. She also worked at a nursing home as a certified nursing assistant and really enjoyed that hard work.
As siblings we started to worry about her continuing to drive the bus. We talked about it and started to discuss our concerns with mom. She was reluctant to stop. She said she was still very capable, and she would quit when she knew she couldn’t handle it anymore. We knew that since our dad died, she needed the money. The bus company came up with a very creative way to encourage her to make the decision on her own to stop driving their bus.
The owner of the bus company gave my mom a great offer. It went something like this. “Alice, would you consider not driving the bus if we kept you at your same hourly wage? We will change your position with us to be an aide on the special need routes.” Our mom jumped on that offer and continued as an aide until she retired a few years later. She was able to stop driving AND maintain her dignity. The bus company realized she had other skills that could be useful to keep her employed.
Try to work this in steps so to speak. What we mean is as things change with their driving, address the concerns head on. Here are some suggestions.
If they start complaining about driving at night make sure they get an eye exam. Cataracts are a potential part of the aging process for many of us and is one reason for the glare they may complain about driving at night. Think of some real reasons why they may be having difficulty. We would hate to take away car keys if something could be addressed with the eye doctor or primary care physician.
If getting lost driving longer distances has become an issue, try this first. “Dad, I am concerned about how you got lost the other day and I am sure you were scared, and I was to. Would you consider limiting your driving to around town to familiar places? If you and mom want a longer trip, we can help you make other arrangements for transportation. We don’t want to keep you from doing the things you want to do but we are worried about you. How does that sound?”
The biggest developmental stage concern for our aging parents is losing their independence. To our seniors this can make them feel that this is the beginning of the end. To love and honor them we want to do what we can do to keep them as independent as possible for as long as it is safe and realistic. This will keep them happy and feeling productive.
If you feel it is time to stop the driving altogether be as gentle and tactful as possible. This is not the time for an argument, and you may need to start the conversation several times to get your point across. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. This is not a topic that most often goes well and try to avoid conflict here as much as possible. Here are some potential strategies.
Be calm but firm. Be empathetic. Let them know you understand how difficult this is to give up driving.
Is there another family member they respect such as a sibling or other older adult that may have a better chance with this conversation?
Stress as many positive outcomes of “not driving” that you can come up with.
There will likely be “pushback”. Try to convey your love and concern as the motivating factor in starting this conversation.
Put it back to them and discussing their responsibility to others and what might happen if they continue to drive.
As mentioned before, it may take a string of conversations to get to the desired result. You may need multiple conversations.
Have solutions ready and alternatives to address their transportation needs. Contact your County Senior Center or Aging and Disability Resource Center for low-cost and available transportation for seniors.
Talk about how you’ve been noticing their driving skills deteriorating or noticed the dents in the car that weren’t there before.
Listen. Listen to their concerns and their feelings about not driving. Remember this is a BIG deal for them.
Involve them in the plan. Let them have some say in alternatives and in deciding how to move forward. Would they want to sell the car? Gift it to a family member?
Let them know you are available to support them in any way that you can. Try to meet them where they are at.
Check in on them regularly to make sure they are following the plan and adjust as needed.
The sooner you can ease into this type of conversation the better. Take it in smaller more acceptable stages rather than the whole thing at once. Always have a solution or some suggestion on how they can get around without driving. Getting a copy of public transportation schedules, teaching how to use UBER or other cab type service. For longer trips helping with a using a bus or a train. Flying these days is very intimidating and they may not be willing to fly on their own. Can a family member help out taking them to the grocery store?
When all else fails drastic measures may be needed. These suggestions are a last resort!
Taking the car keys away or hiding them. If your parent has the cognitive ability to find and get themselves another vehicle this may not work.
Sell the car. This may take their agreement to sign off on the title.
Discuss with their primary care physician. They may want to see them before taking the next step. The doctor can initiate a letter to the DOT or the DMV or the MOT in Canada that states their driving privileges should be revoked. I hate to say it but the physician can be the bad guy or gal in this situation. The doctor may want to exam and have a discussion with your parent to help them decide if taking away their driver’s license is the right thing to do. They do have the power to do so and this may make it easier on you when someone else is making that decision for them.
Somethings that are suggested that we may not agree with but could be considered as other “Last Resort” tactics.
Holding a large “family gathering” intervention. This will make them feel ganged up on and put on the defensive right away. At some point this may be necessary, but I would not suggest it out of the gate.
Report them to the DMV yourself.
Take the car for repairs and state it cannot be fixed or other technique like disabling the vehicle. We struggle with being deceptive unless you may be dealing with Dementia, and they really would believe it. Otherwise, you are at risk for losing trust and credibility with your parent.
To sum things up, this may be one of many difficult conversations you may have with an aging parent. We encourage you to share your personal stories about this topic so we can help as many as we can to find a way to handle this delicate but potentially dangerous subject. Our goal is that these tips can help you have a positive experience or at least having some tools to guide you through the conversation.
It’s not always easy to tell your aging parent they need to stop driving, especially if they refuse to listen. But it is necessary for their safety and the safety of others on the road. Consider subscribing today so you can get alerted when we publish our next blog post deal ing with the topics we face as Baby Boomers. Join our “Stay in the Know List” HERE
Thank you for spending some time with us and taking a few minutes out of your busy day. We are always looking for suggestions on what topics you find valuable as a "Baby Boomer" Feel free to share, like or comment on this post along with topics you would like to know more about.
Talk soon, Pam
References: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-examination-room/201702/8-signs-your-elderly-parent-is-no-longer-fit-drive#:~:text=8%20Signs%20Your%20Elderly%20Parent%20Is%20No%20Longer,8%20You%E2%80%99re%20Nervous%20Sitting%20in%20the%20Passenger%20Seat https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/safety/dementia-driving#:~:text=1%20Be%20patient%20and%20firm.%20Demonstrate%20understanding%20and,the%20car%20or%20consider%20selling%20the%20car.%20 8 WAYS TO STOP AN ELDERLY PERSON FROM DRIVING WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS