When to Take the Car Keys Away from Older Drivers

Signs that the time has come for seniors to stop driving 

The hardest conversation for adult children to have with elderly parents is talking about giving up driving, according to a recent study and confirmed by many adult children’s experiences. Adult children would often rather talk about finances or end-of-life issues (such as final wishes or wills) than bring up the topic of retiring the car keys.

Families gave two major reasons for avoiding the topic of giving up driving. Taking away the independence, freedom, and access of driving is not an easy thing to do to anyone, especially someone you care about. Additionally, families worry that their loved one would never forgive them for intervening.

Experts say that it’s important not to urge a family member to stop driving unless you’re convinced he or she is a danger behind the wheel. Age alone is not a predictor for poor driving skills. Many seniors are able to drive safely in their 80s and early 90s. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Older Driver Research Program reports that older drivers cause fewer motorist and pedestrian deaths than younger drivers, they’re more likely to wear seatbelts, and less likely to drink and drive. Also, seniors drive less frequently than younger people, so the total number of accidents is lower.

Still, if you have growing concerns about a family member’s driving ability, don’t push aside these concerns. What are the signs that a senior’s driving is becoming risky?

  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Forgetting where he or she is going
  • Slow reaction or confusion in unexpected situations
  • Difficulty staying in one lane
  • Failing to stop at a red light or stop sign
  • Dents or scrapes on the car, garage or mailbox
  • Bad judgment when making left turns
  • Traffic tickets or warnings

Also watch for these factors that can elevate risk by compromising driving ability and judgment:

  • Physical and mental impairments such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia
  • Vision impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Prescription drug use and drug interactions
  • Alcohol abuse

The process of easing a senior through the transition away from driving can be smoother if you bring up the subject before it becomes a problem. Establish an open dialogue and give your loved one time to evaluate his or her own skills and think about other methods of transportation. Encourage your loved one to be an active participant in the transition to a new way of getting out and about.