Is it Time for Your Mom or Dad to Hang Up the Car Keys?
It may seem like only yesterday that your folks began entrusting you with their car keys. Yet, you may now be in the position to determine whether they are fit to drive. This role reversal can make discussing evidence of their unsafe driving uncomfortable for both parties.
To keep things productive, focus on facts, be sensitive to the older driver’s feelings, and try to include them in coming up with solutions. If you’re unsure how to proceed, refer to the list below to help determine if it’s time for mom or dad to hang up the car keys.
Older drivers aren’t necessarily unsafe drivers.
Keep in mind that we all make driving mistakes, regardless of age. It’s the frequency and severity of these errors that indicate whether or not we’re safe behind the wheel. Many older drivers can continue to drive well into their golden years. Be on the lookout for common warning signs that an aging parent’s driving is no longer safe:
General Warning Signs:
- Increasing number of dents or scratches on the senior’s vehicle, mailbox, or garage
- Tickets for speeding or driving infractions
- Delayed reaction time while driving
- Drowsiness or confusion
- Nervousness while driving
- Clipping curbs or medians
- Getting lost while driving in familiar areas
Serious/Urgent Warning Signs:
- Getting into fender benders and car accidents
- Ignores traffic signals and signs
- Has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Mixes up gas and brake pedals
- Drives at inappropriate speeds
First, try to talk to your aging loved one about your concerns.
This is often an uncomfortable or awkward conversation to have. Ideally, the aging driver will be open to discussing their struggles with driving, accepting feedback, and collaborating on a solution. AAA recommends normalizing this type of discussion by bringing up the topic casually and frequently. This can help you work towards a plan before it becomes apparent that they are no longer safe behind the wheel.
Include your family and friends.
You may find that they also have some concerns that the older driver is no longer safe to drive. Including others can help validate what you are feeling and noticing. Knowing that you’re not the only one noticing the behaviors of an unsafe driver can be reassuring.
Seek medical advice.
Medication side effects and vision and hearing issues can interfere with one’s ability to drive safely. Your parent’s doctor can provide diagnosis and treatment of underlying health problems. Often medication adjustments, glasses or hearing aids can help an aging driver to continue to drive safely for much longer.
Become their passenger.
The more occasions that you, family, and friends spend in the car with your aging parent, the better you can assess their ability to drive safely. Take notes that you can refer to later. Based on your notes, might say, “You seemed nervous making that U-turn yesterday. Is everything OK?” Ask family and friends to do the same. Offering specifics can be a way to open up a casual conversation about an older adult’s thoughts on their own driving skills.
Pay attention to what they say and do.
Allow the senior to bring up their own concerns as a low-pressure way to discuss how they feel when behind the wheel. For example, Dad may offer, “I hate driving in rush hour! Other drivers are crazy these days!” You might respond, “I understand. Driving at that time of day is frustrating. Can I set your appointments up for early morning instead? It might help be less stressful for you.”
If he or she is a danger and refuses to stop driving, you may need to intervene.
If your loved one is willing, taking them to an occupational therapist for a comprehensive evaluation can be a neutral way to have their driving skills assessed. Older drivers who refuse this option may need to be anonymously reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The senior will be required to take a driving test to keep their license. If your loved one has dementia but still finds ways to drive, you may need to hide their keys or remove their vehicle.
Car keys are not the sole path to independence.
Buses, ride shares, and private services are alternate transportation options that can be cheaper and less stressful than maintaining and operating a car. Offer to accompany your mom or dad to any alternate transportation options you suggest or to drive them to their next appointment. When using a rideshare app such as Uber or Lyft, you can add the app to your own phone, order rides, and track routes from pick-up to drop-off.
Knowing when it’s time to help a parent give up their car keys can be challenging.
It’s a sensitive subject so it’s important to handle it with compassion and respect. As long as you are acting in love and in the best interest of your aging loved one, you’re doing the right thing.
We hope the information we’ve provided helps keep your aging loved one safe and sound. If we can be of assistance to you in any way, you’re always welcome to contact us.
About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved one. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.