Is It Time to Give Up the Car Keys?

January 20, 2017 - 6 minutes read


It’s a run of the mill weekday afternoon and your retired mother is on the road, running her usual errands. Unfortunately, the car trips are becoming more of an adventure lately; your mother is finding it increasingly difficult to see things as clearly as she once did. After a brief run in the doughnut shop for her usual cup of coffee, she gets back in the car, parked right in front of the store. As she turns the car back on and attempts to put it in gear, the letters representing the different gears appear to be fuzzier than they usually are, and she mistakes the “R” for the “D”. When she hits the accelerator, her car screeches into reverse and crashes through the storefront of the doughnut shop, horrifying the employees and the many patrons of the shop. Sadly, a story not too dissimilar to this one happened to an elderly driver parked in front of a storefront. Many adult children that have witnessed the warning signs that their parents are too old to drive now have to figure out how to approach them about their situation and what alternatives to driving that senior drivers can turn to.

Before you approach your parents with this uncomfortable conversation, you need to determine if the conversation is even needed. There are some warning signs to look for that will let you know whether or not your parents need to consider handing over the car keys to someone else. Does it appear that the simplest of driving activities, like turning the wheel or shifting gears causes your parent significant pain or discomfort? If this is a situation that does not appear to improve in the foreseeable future, it could become very dangerous for your parent and those that share the road with him or her. Much like the scenario above, diminished eyesight is a very real problem for elderly parents that insist they can continue to drive themselves. However, a diminished ability to hear can be just as dangerous. If you have noticed that your parent is having increasing difficulty in deciphering things that are in front of them or picking up on obviously noisy things, it may be time to consider having that conversation. Sometimes a condition or a medication that a parent is taking to mitigate the effects of that condition are impacting their ability to make sound judgments on the road; if this is a problem that is not likely to go away in time, being behind the wheel may no longer be an option for them.

If you have become aware of any of the above indications that your parents may not be able to drive themselves anymore, the time for the uncomfortable conversation about their inability to do so has come. Fortunately, there are some guidelines that you can follow that will make it easier to have that conversation. Rather than dictating that your parent cannot drive anymore due to things that you have noticed while driving with them, pose it to them as a question. See if they have noticed the problems that you have observed. For a conversation like this, you want to ensure that is a block of time where you do not have any pending commitments and you do not feel rushed. Work to understand the impact that giving up driving will mean to your parent; the effect it will have on things like their social life and hobbies they engage in. When having the discussion about your parent giving up driving, it would be best to have some reasonable alternatives to driving in mind when you do. Look into car-pooling services for seniors to see if that would be feasible for their schedule. If your budget or your parent’s budget can allow for it, hire a private driver for him or her; it can help maintain some of the independence that your parent has become accustomed to when they could drive themselves.

Being aware of the signs of a diminished capacity of your parent to drive him or herself is a great first step towards greater road safety for everyone. While telling your parent that it is time to hand over the keys is awkward for them and for you, it’s a conversation that will ultimately put your mind and keep them safe.