Date: September 12, 2023

Author: Jayne Stewart

One of the most difficult things an adult child of an aging parent must do is convince their mom or dad that it’s time to give up the car keys.

It can be difficult to talk to a loved one about their driving abilities. Saying something like, "I’ve noticed some signs that it may be time to consider not driving anymore," can often lead to denial, resistance, anger, or confusion.

However, older drivers and their passengers aged 65 and above account for the majority of fatalities in traffic crashes involving older drivers, according to recent statistics from the NHTSA. In 2021, 66% of these fatalities were either the older drivers themselves or their passengers.

Addressing when it’s time to hang up the keys isn’t just about individual freedom. It’s a critical conversation about public safety and the welfare of all road users.

Is Age Always a Factor in Driving Ability?

Just because a person is older does not always mean it’s time to hide the keys. Some elderly people continue to be safe drivers well into their 80’s. If your parent is one of those, you may be able to avoid dreaded driving confrontation talk. If not, how do you tell your parent that you’ve seen the signs and you are too old to drive?

Signs to Discuss Driving with Your Elderly Parent

As our parents age, subtle changes in their driving behaviors can be easy to overlook. However, these signs can be early indicators of diminishing driving abilities. Recognizing and addressing these warnings promptly can prevent potential accidents and ensure the safety of your loved ones and others on the road.

Physical Signs:

  • Fender benders, unexplained dents, and dings
  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Pain and stiffness
  • Use of medications causing sleepiness, fatigue, or irritability
  • Alcohol consumption

Behavioral Signs:

  • Slow reaction time and distractibility
  • Cognitive changes and inability to multi-task
  • Road rage and anxiety when driving
  • Excessive braking or accelerating
  • Failure to use turn signals properly
  • Close calls or “near misses”

Observations and Practical Steps

These steps are not only a chance to evaluate potential risks, but they also serve as a basis for meaningful conversations about their driving future. By being proactive, you can guarantee safety while also offering the necessary support and empathy that your parent may require during this transitional period.

On-the-Road Observations: If your parent is still driving, go for a ride with them and observe their driving skills (or lack of them). Do they stop at stop signs? Can they maintain the posted speed limit? Do they get irritated with other drivers and show signs of road rage? Do they appear overly nervous or anxious?

Remember what it was like when your parent taught you to drive or when you taught your 16-year-old child to drive? If you find yourself hanging on to the edge of your seat and trying to use that non-existent brake pedal on the floorboard of the passenger side of the car, you know the time has come.

Ask Questions: Has your parent recently gotten lost? Do they recall how damages to their car occurred? Are they aware of their surroundings while driving?

Medication Assessment: Be familiar with any medications your parent is taking. Prescription drugs are another problem for the elderly driver. They may cause drowsiness, irritability, or extreme fatigue. Make sure you’re familiar with your loved one’s drug regime and watch for those side effects.

Download Our FREE Guide to Dealing with Elderly Anger

How to Approach the Conversation

It’s important to have a talk with your parent about this subject before making any decisions. When you approach them, be prepared for a little, or in some cases, a lot of resistance. Be gentle and empathetic.

Assure your parent that they will not be isolated at home. Investigate other ways for your parent to get around, such as senior shuttles, Uber, or programs such as Senior Rides. Your parent will feel better about not driving if other transportation is available.

Surrendering the right to drive means giving up a large portion of independence, but it’s a necessary step that must be taken for the safety of your parents as well as other drivers on the road. When the time comes, an appointment with your parent’s doctor for support and assistance will be helpful both for you and your parent.

Date: September 12, 2023

Author: Jayne Stewart

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