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Aging Parents: When Driving Isn’t Safe Anymore

aging drivers behind wheelIf you have a parent or other elderly loved one whose driving skills are getting shaky, it might be time to give them ‘the talk’.  While we all know what ‘the talk’ refers to when it comes to adolescents, when it involves aging drivers, it refers to the realization that it might be time for them to relinquish their car keys.

It’s a subject people dread broaching with parents and other elderly loved ones. For that reason, it’s often avoided long past the point where they might become a danger on the road.  If you’re facing this difficult task, you might wonder how best to go about it with the least amount of conflict and hurt feelings.

An article in the New York Times Health titled ‘The Car Key Conversation’ tackles the subject head on. According to them, 29% of adult children in a research study reported that discussing their parent’s funeral plans was easier than talking to them about relinquishing their driving privileges. Another 18% said that moving into assisted living and selling the family home was an easier subject to broach with their parents than the driving issue.

Experts say that most important thing is to begin the discussion before the situation gets critical.  By gradually easing into the subject, you give them a chance to adjust to the necessity of giving up driving when their ability to safely negotiate the road becomes impaired. Be compassionate and realize that driving represents freedom and mobility.  Keep the conversation non-confrontational and stress that you will help them find other means of transportation that will allow them the mobility to continue to do the things that matter to them, like getting together with friends, exercising, shopping and getting to medical appointments.

The website says: “For many older drivers, giving up the car keys is a drastic and life-altering change -- limiting where they can live, whom they can visit, and what interests and activities they can pursue.” 

What follows are some tips to help make the discussion about and transition to non-driving easier:

Gather several close friends and relatives and use the intervention method to discuss their driving impairment. In a non-accusatory way, you can jointly express your concern for your parent’s safety, as well as for the safety of others.  Oftentimes, this group approach will help dissolve their denial about their loss of driving ability.

Help them craft a schedule of their travel needs and find alternate transportation for them. This will help to assure them that they won’t be isolated and alone just because they can’t drive.

If they deny that they’re having trouble driving, take them for a driving and vision test at the local Department of Motor Vehicles. If they fail either portion of the test, their license will be taken away on the spot.  If they’re able to pass, then they get a green light to continue driving, but make sure that you take them back to get tested again in six months.

If all of the above tactics fail and they refuse to stop driving, you might need to confiscate their car keys, or their vehicle. It’s a difficult step to take, but it’s necessary to ensure their safety and the safety of others with whom they share the road.