How to Know It’s Time Your Older Loved One Quits Driving

How do you know that it’s time your loved one quits driving? Is your mom or dad a senior who still enjoys the independence of driving around town as they’ve always done for years?

It is common as an adult child to worry about your aging parent’s driving skills. Your parent may be hesitant to mention to you that they have difficulty driving. This hesitance could be due to their sense of pride or the fear that their keys might be taken away from them. 

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Is it time your older loved one quits driving
Is it safe for your older loved one to keep driving?

It’s not easy to make the decision to tell a loved one to stop driving or to have to admit that the time has come. It can be tough to start that conversation with them.

It is a sensitive topic, especially for your loved one who fears losing his/her independence or being seen as incapable when they can no longer drive.

Driving is one of the most important symbols of your parent’s independence. Having the ability to drive helps your older loved ones stay active, independent, and connected to their friends and family as well as remaining involved in their community. 

These will help you in your decision regarding when it’s time your older loved one quits driving.

As your loved one gets older, the risk of their being hurt or even killed in an accident increases.

Safety is a top priority when you’re acting as a caregiver for your mom or dad and deciding when they should give up their car keys. There’ll come a time when your aged loved one may no longer be safe operating a vehicle on public roads.

Accident research has shown that driving is statistically more dangerous as you get older. According to the American CDC over 700 elderly drivers are hurt and nearly 20 are killed in auto accidents that occur every day in the US. In 2014 over 10 million Americans were involved in an accident where an elderly driver was at fault.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also noted that an average of 500 older adults are injured every day in crashes, and older drivers are much more likely to be involved in accidents than younger ones. 

To help you to determine if your elderly loved one should stop driving, you should pay close attention to warning signs showing that they’re no longer able to drive safely.

Worried about your parent’s driving safety?

If you have a loved one who’s getting older and is still driving, there comes a time when you’ll need to assess their situation so you can determine when it’s time for them to stop driving and hand over the keys. You’ll have the difficult task of deciding it’s time your older loved one quits driving and you let them know.

Are you worried about your parent’s driving safety?
Are you worried about your parent’s driving safety?

This is probably one of the most important and perhaps most difficult decisions you’ll probably face in life. It’s a decision you’ll have to make thoughtfully. Your loved one might see giving up their car keys as an utter and total loss of their independence.

Because having the ability to drive helps your older loved one stay active and maintain independence, you should make the decision thoughtfully and tactfully if you’re thinking of taking their car keys away. 

Although staying connected to friends and family as well as remaining involved in the community are all undeniable benefits, as your loved one gets older, you should be concerned whether they should continue driving at all.

General effects of aging on driving may indicate it’s time your older loved one quits driving

Is it time your older loved one quits driving due to the effects of aging on their ability to drive safely?

When you must decide if your parent is no longer able to safely drive, there are factors that may influence this decision. The factors include your aging parent’s

  • physical health condition
  • mental status, and/or
  • the medications that they’re taking.

If your loved one is older than 65, they’re twice as likely to have medical problems that can contribute to driving issues than younger drivers. As people get older, they begin to experience some age-related health problems that can make driving physically awkward.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), if your loved one is over the age of 80, they’re more likely to die in a crash than any other age group.

Merely being an older person shouldn’t prevent your loved one from driving. Their age shouldn’t be the sole reason for taking away their car keys. Your parent may be in their 80s and 90s and still be active and safe drivers, whereas some people in their 50s and 60s can be a danger to themselves and others on the road. The factors that you must consider in your decision should be the mental and physical condition of your loved one and not just their age.

Aging sometimes comes with both physical and cognitive challenges that can make driving difficult or outright dangerous for some seniors.  As your loved one gets older, they may start to experience age-related health problems that can make driving physically challenging for them.

Older people face increasing problems with eyesight and hearing and reaction times may become naturally slow. Also, your loved one may have debilitating chronic diseases that can greatly impair their ability to safely navigate the roads.

If you have a loved one who’s getting older and is still driving, you should be aware of their overall situation so you can help determine when it’s time for them to hand over the keys.

Effect of health diseases  

There are some health problems or diseases that can affect your loved one’s ability to drive safely. Such medical problems as:

  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Heart attacks
  • Alzheimer’s disease. 

These health conditions can put your loved one and others on the road at great risk. If your loved one has any of these conditions, you may get them a medical alert system. This gives them access to emergency personnel if they have emergency medical needs while driving.

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Effect of cognitive changes

Cognitive changes can cause slower reaction time in your loved one. This means it’ll take them more time to notice merging cars or to respond when a car ahead of them slows down or stops. 

Multi-tasking ability decreases with age and it becomes more difficult for your loved one to drive safely and keep track of signals, road signs, pedestrians, other cars, and other “normal” distractions on the road.

If your aged parent has memory loss, he/she will be at risk for making dangerous mistakes as they drive. For instance, your loved one could forget where he or she is going and end up driving many miles away from their planned destination. 

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He/she may even end up in a bad neighborhood or forget where their vehicle is parked. These types of situations can leave your loved one vulnerable to crime. 

Effect of pain or stiffness

Pain or stiffness in the neck or back can make it difficult for your loved one to turn and see clearly when changing lanes or checking for pedestrians. If they’re stiff or in pain, they might have a hard time turning to check their blind spot or rearview mirror when making lane changes or backing up.

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Leg pain or body weakness can also make it harder for your loved one to switch between the brake and gas pedals or to press hard enough when needed to do so. General loss of body strength can make fast, accurate steering more difficult for them as well.

Effect of Hearing difficulties

Your parent who has been an excellent driver all his or her life may be finding it increasingly difficult to drive safely if they cannot see or hear properly. If your loved one is over 65 years old, they may be experiencing some degree of hearing difficulties. 

It’s estimated that one-third of adults over the age of 65 experience problems with their hearing. Loss of hearing is a natural side effect of growing older for some seniors. This can create problems for your loved one on the road. 

If he/she wears hearing aids, remind them to always have them on while driving.

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If your loved one is unable to hear honking horns of cars and approaching sirens, they’re likely to be oblivious to many other road noises. This makes it unsafe for your loved one to be on the road driving. 

Be vigilant and aware of your loved one’s vision and hearing abilities. If you notice that something seems off, you should arrange to have his or her eyes and ears checked.

Effect of visual difficulties

Sound eyesight is very important for driving. About 90% of the information your loved one needs to safely drive is relayed from what they directly see on the road. They should therefore be able to read the signs on the road, watch for exits, and look out for hazards on the roads. 

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Your loved one should also be able to monitor how fast they’re going. When their vision becomes impaired with age, all of these things become more difficult for them. Ultimately, this increases the all-around danger of them being on the road as drivers.

Effect of prescription medicines

Many older adults have routinely prescribed medications for a variety of health problems that they have. Some of these medications have potential side effects which can be huge and worrisome. The side effects can cause problems with vision, increased drowsiness, shakiness, and confusion. 

Some medications can interact with one another and cause even more serious issues. If your loved one still drives and you’re concerned about the medications they’re taking, you should discuss your concerns with their doctor.

Remember, with driving every second counts. Your loved one should be able to react quickly to a dangerous situation when they’re behind the wheels.

What to do before you decide

Before you make the decision to ask your loved one to quit driving, you should pay close attention to warning signs that may exist which might interfere with them driving safely.

Ride along with them to a few of their errands or appointments and see how they do. While riding with them, you should stay calm and not berate or nag them about any driving mistakes you observed. 

Make observations and make mental notes to yourself for later when you return. Do not let your loved ones know that you’re taking a ride with them for the purpose of evaluating them. Make it appear as if you’re going along just to keep them company.

Warning signs of unsafe driving indicating it’s time your older loved one quits driving

What are the warning signs that it’s time to take away your parent’s keys?

The aging process is likely to take a toll on your loved one’s hearing, vision, and reaction times. Incidentally, these are all vital to maintaining their safety while on the road.

Here are 25 warning signs that your loved one might no longer be a safe driver behind the wheels of a car:

  1. Their car has fresh dents and scrapes. A good place to start is by frequently examining your parent’s car. Casually check their vehicle once in a while for new dents or scrapes. Also check for dents or scrapes that may newly appear on the garage door, fence, mailbox, driveway, or even on curbs near the house.
  2. Is your parent a lifetime seatbelt wearer who has stopped buckling up before driving?
  3. Is he/she driving at a significantly slower speed than the posted speed limit or than the general speed of other surrounding vehicles?
  4. Does he/she get more and more nervous when driving?
  5. Does driving at night now make them nervous? If your parent has become reluctant to drive at night, this is a sign for you to pay closer attention to their overall driving skills.
  6. They’re straining to see and have difficulty seeing objects, pedestrians, or even other vehicles. Being able to see well is essential to safe driving. If your parent has a vision problem such as glaucoma or macular degeneration, they’re not likely to be safe behind the wheel no matter what they say.
  7. Do they have difficulty reacting quickly as they process multiple images or sounds?
  8. Is it no longer possible for them to see over the steering wheel? If your parent has lost some height due to osteoporosis or a curved spine, this can make driving quite challenging.
  9. Does your loved one get disoriented or easily lost while driving – even when they’re in familiar locations?
  10. Does he/she ignore or miss traffic signals or stop signs?
  11. Do they fail to use her turn signals or keeps the signal on without changing lanes?
  12. Do they change lanes without even glancing at their blind spot?
  13. Does your loved one often back up after missing an exit or road?
  14. Do they hit the brake pedal or stop abruptly without any reason?
  15. Do they have difficulty moving a foot from the brake to the gas or confusing both pedals? Or he/she may even press both pedals at the same time while driving.
  16. Do they coast nearly to a complete stop in the midst of moving traffic?
  17. Does your loved one straddle lanes while driving?
  18. Are they drifting unknowingly into other lanes?
  19. Are they making sudden lane changes for no reason?
  20. Do they become easily confused in traffic?
  21. Do they have problems with neck flexibility in turning to see traffic on the left or the right?
  22. Does your loved one respond slowly to unexpected situations on the road?
  23. Have they had frequent close calls or near misses on the road while driving? If your parent has had several narrowly missed accidents, that’s a sign that his/her driving skills may be deteriorating. This could be happening because they’re misreading traffic signals or road signs, misjudging gaps in traffic, or underestimating the speed of oncoming cars
  24. Are they having road rage or causing other drivers to honk out of frustration?
  25. Has your loved one been issued two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the past two years? This is especially important if they’ve been careful drivers in previous years with no traffic warnings or tickets. If you can, you should try to find out if your loved one’s auto insurance rates have recently increased.

What to do after your assessment and it’s time your older loved one quits driving

If you have noticed several of these warning signs happening, it’s time to seriously assess your loved one’s situation. If there is obvious damage to your parent’s car, you should address that.

Remember, you have to be tactful when approaching this subject with your loved one. This is because losing their right to drive can be traumatic for them. 

Wait for a time when your loved one seems calm enough to have a discussion and ask what happened to his or her car.

While it’s common to occasionally experience a door ding or minor dent, you should be worried if your parent refuses to talk about it or can’t come up with a reasonable explanation for the incident.

You’re likely to dread having this conversation with your parent. While taking away your loved one’s car keys may mean the end of a great deal of independence for them, it is important to do what is best for them and for others on the road.

The tough conversation when it’s time your older loved one quits driving

Having the car key conversation won’t be easy, so it is best to prepare as much as possible. Is it time to have the difficult talk about your loved one giving up their car keys?

Here are some guidelines to help you through that tough conversation:

  • Choose an appropriate time and place to talk to your parent. This should preferably be at home in private where everyone can speak freely. 
  • Do not discuss such a sensitive issue in a public place such as a restaurant. This can become uncomfortable and embarrassing for your loved one. 
  • Select a day or evening when you have plenty of time to dedicate to your conversation. This way, you won’t feel rushed.
  • Write down what you will say because it may be difficult to choose the right words when the time comes. Take some time to plan exactly what you are going to say and practice how you’ll say them. Also, be sure to list your reasons so you can provide specific examples during your conversation.
  • If you have siblings or a spouse, consider having them present for the conversation. This way, you can talk to your parents together about your concerns. Try not to have the conversation alone with you parent.
Consider having siblings present during conversations about your concerns
Consider having siblings or a spouse present during conversations about your concerns
  • Start by merely discussing road conditions, traffic, or cars in general.
  • Talk about your parent’s current driving behaviors and why they need to change them.
  • Explain the risks. Your loved one knows the risks, but they don’t want to think about them. You should discuss how a wreck could affect them physically, financially, mentally, and morally, if they hurt someone. Worse still, if they cause damage to someone else’s property or injury/death to another person, they could be sued and risk losing their hard-earned retirement savings or even go to prison for manslaughter.
  • You may have to schedule a comprehensive eye exam for your loved one. If their ophthalmologist is concerned about their vision, he or she can also discuss those concerns at the appointment. Your parent’s ophthalmologist can ask for keys as well, if necessary.
  • You may suggest that your loved one takes a driving test to evaluate their ability to continue driving a car. 
  • If you think they’re still capable of driving but might simply need a driver improvement or refresher course, suggest that they enroll in a Mature Driving course. 
  • Provide alternatives. Research and provide your parent with alternative transportation options if you feel he/she needs to quit driving. These days, there are many options for getting around town without the use of a personal vehicle. 
  • You can arrange for other convenient transportation options. These include Uber, Lyft, Dial-a-Ride, and the help of family members as well. Assure your loved ones that they can still participate in their usual routines. They can get to appointments and social outings easily and conveniently.
  • Services like Instacart, GrubHub, and Amazon can help decrease your loved one’s need for running errands.
  • You should conclude your conversation by emphasizing your support and willingness to help them maintain their independence as much as possible after they’ve given up their car keys.

Bottom line

Driving is a risky activity and it’s best to be proactive and regularly assess your parent’s driving ability. It can be tough for you to admit that they’re declining and it’s time your older loved one quits driving.

It would be a terrible tragedy if your parent got into an accident and seriously hurt themselves or someone else. They may even get themselves or someone else killed. 

If your parent has to quit driving, they’re likely to experience emotions including anger, frustration, and even depression. He/she may feel that they will be socially isolated. They may also feel they’ll become a burden to you and other family members who will have to transport them. 

Part of the conversation you will have with your loved ones should involve allowing them to express themselves. They should be able to tell you how they are feeling. It’s your responsibility to validate those concerns and make them feel comfortable in their decision.

If you ultimately take the keys away from your loved one, make them understand that it isn’t the end of their independence. They can always take other alternate methods of transportation to their destinations.

The most desirable scenario would be for your parent to willingly hand you their car keys. You can also lean on the support of their doctor and ophthalmologist as well to get them to do so.

2 thoughts on “How to Know It’s Time Your Older Loved One Quits Driving

  1. Great post, I think it’s time for me to tell my mom to hang up her car keys!

  2. It’s difficult to hand over one’d keys at any age. I’d feel handicapped!

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