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How Do You Get An Elderly Person To Stop Driving?

Okay, I’ve been there with my own father, so I know how difficult it can be to try to get a senior to surrender their car keys for good. They see it as giving up their independence; you see it as a way to keep them (and others) safe.

How do you get an elderly person to stop driving?

  • Plan out your approach towards giving up their car.
  • Speak with respect.
  • Start with questions about why they want to continue driving.
  • Listen to their concerns.
  • Don’t patronize.
  • Investigate viable options to replace driving.

When a parent digs in their heels and refuses to stop driving, you probably can can see it from their perspective. They don’t want to do it because they’ll be giving up much of their independence and their freedom to come and go as they wish.

On the other hand, you certainly don’t want them to get into an accident and get hurt – or even more unthinkable – injure someone else.

Trust me, it’s a struggle to get your aging parents to give up their car keys.

“Driving can often be considered one of the last symbols of independence for older adults,” said Lakelyn Hogan, gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care. “The keys to keeping older drivers safe and independent are to continually assess a loved one’s abilities, communicate concerns and plan ways to transition driving practices, if needed.” – Home Instead Senior Care

If you have decided that it’s time to address the subject, AARP has a free online seminar that will help you assess your senior loved one’s driving ability, which is a good first step.

This “We Need To Talk” resource also gives you some ideas for how to have this important discussion about convincing elderly parents to stop driving.

How Do You Talk To An Elderly Parent About Driving?

Sometimes it’s not easy to even begin the conversation with an older adult (especially a parent who is used to telling you what to do, not the other way around!).

When the time comes, here are some tips that can make it a little easier to have “the talk” with your parent:

  1. Plan out your approach. Talk to your parent about giving up their driver’s license when you are both calm. Do it during a quiet time of day, not when you’ll be rushing out the door. In other words don’t drop the bomb that they need to stop driving while you’re buttoning your coat and waving good-bye. Remember that it’s highly unlikely your parent will hand over the car keys after your first conversation. Treat this as a way to open the discussion.
  2. Speak with respect. Don’t wait until things have gotten so urgent that you feel like your parent has to surrender their license immediately. Also, keep in mind that yelling isn’t going to solve anything. No one wants to be bullied.
  3. Calmly ask questions to start the conversation. For example, you could ask, “Dad, how are you feeling about driving lately? Do you have any concerns?”
  4. Listen to those concerns and read between the lines. When I asked my father if he was worried about anything in regards to driving, he told me his driving was “fine.” He said he was glad, too, because if he couldn’t drive, he would have to impose on me. Clearly, he didn’t want to do that. I was able to use that knowledge to give him ideas about how we could keep that from happening.
  5. Don’t patronize your parent with blanket reassurances. Saying, “things will be fine,” doesn’t help. Instead, work through their concerns with real solutions. Sometimes a pros and cons list can help them see that there are good things about giving up their license. An example could be saving on car insurance and vehicle maintenance. Be sure to point out the “cons”! For example, an accident could be fatal to them or someone else. Knowing the cons can help the senior face reality.
  6. Investigate options.
    • Will taking a senior driving course help?
    • How about a new hearing aid or new prescription glasses?
    • What if they stayed within a five-mile radius or gave up driving at night?
    • Could they learn how to use a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft?
    • Do they have a friend who can drive them?
  7. If they are open to the idea of using a ride sharing service but are intimidated at the thought of it, you might try using Uber or Lyft to go on a few errands or outings with your parents. It will be easier to have you with them to show how it’s done. Once they see that it is really simple to ride share, they may warm up to giving up their keys.
  8. Give them time to get used to the idea of stopping driving and let them adjust to something they don’t want to face. Waiting allows your parent to think things over. Remember that you might need to revisit the subject several times over a few months.
  9. Temporarily drop the subject if your parent gets angry. You aren’t getting through to them at that point anyhow. Wait a couple of weeks, then calmly bring up the subject again.

Pros And Cons Of Retesting Elderly Drivers

If you feel like your older parent’s driving ability isn’t what it used to be, you can always start the “you shouldn’t drive anymore” conversation by mentioning that it could be good to get retested. That way, you’ll feel better if they pass the test and you’ll have leverage to ask them to give up the keys if they fail.

There are some pros and cons to retesting elderly drivers that you should be aware of:

Pros

  • Age isn’t always a factor – some people can drive better at 85 than their younger 25 year-old counterparts. A driving retest could show that they are on top of the driving game.
  • If they pass a driving retest, you’ll know that your parent is still safe to drive.

Cons

  • The people who conduct driver’s test are human. They may overlook something or give the senior the benefit of the doubt, or miss that the person has a physical concern that could impact driving ability.
  • If you really wanted them to give up the keys, you will no longer have an argument against driving if your parent passes a driver’s test.
  • If they fail the test, they would lose the ability to get around. That may mean you will need to step up to take them places. If you can’t, you’ll need to help them investigate how they will get from points A to Z.
  • The elder’s health may suffer if they lose their license. That loss delivers a huge blow – to their ego and sense of self, as well as to their independence. On top of that, they may not visit a doctor as often as they should and their social life will likely decline, which raises the chance of depression.

Instead of insisting on retesting, you can talk to a certified driver specialist. They are experts at assessing senior motor skills, their cognition, and will do driver evaluations by taking your parent out for an on-the-road test of their driving ability.

To find a certified specialist in your area, visit AAA Foundation for Driver Safety.

Can A Doctor Stop An Elderly Person From Driving?

Each state in the USA has different requirements on this topic. We recommend that you review the list on our article on Elderly Driving Laws By State to see what the laws are where you live. 

Also, if you have questions, it would not hurt to consult an elder law attorney.   They may tell you that you would need a second opinion from another physician, so be aware of that. 

Normally, it’s the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in your county who will make that final decision but of course, if they receive a letter from a physician, that will play a part in that decision making process.

Related Articles

When Should Seniors Stop Driving?

Can You Be Held Liable If Your Elderly Parent Has A Car Accident?

At What Age Do Seniors Have To Take A Driving Test?

How To Stop A Person With Dementia From Driving

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