Senior Driving : What to Know Before Asking for the Keys

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Top Takeaways 

  1. Senior driving safety is a serious concern for many family members
  2. Poor vision, hearing, and mobility can lead to dangerous driving
  3. A recent history of traffic tickets, accidents, or damage to the car can indicate it is time to take away the keys
  4. Bring your loved one’s physician into the conversation about driving sooner than later
  5. Be prepared to revisit the conversation about driving concerns more than once 
  6. Encourage your loved one to use public transportation to stay independent and active if they no longer drive

 

 

Intro

 

Do you feel a little nervous every time your aging parent backs their car out of the driveway? Or perhaps you are curious if a new medical diagnosis should prevent them from driving? While taking away the keys to the car is a big emotional transition that can decrease feelings of independence, sometimes it is necessary in order to keep your loved one, and other drivers on the road, safe.



What are the warning signs?

While it’s important to remember that all older adults are unique, there are some common warning signs that could mean it is time to review driving safety:

  • Poor vision or a new (and stronger prescription)
  • Difficulties seeing at night, especially with depth perception
  • Poor hearing
  • Poor fine motor skills brought on by a stroke or other condition
  • Recent history of a vehicle accident or traffic tickets
  • Tremors in the arms, hands, legs, or feet brought on by Parkinson’s disease or another condition
  • A diagnosis of dementia
  • Feelings of anxiety about driving 
  • Mobility challenges
  • Taking prescription medications that cause drowsiness



Should you be worried?

Not all warning signs mean that you must take away your loved one’s keys in order to keep them safe. However, if you notice a few of the signs, it is best to begin the conversation with their physician.



What should you say to the doctor?

Getting your loved one’s physician involved with the driving safety conversation is a wise step. The doctor is an objective third party who is well versed in your loved one’s challenges as well as their medical history. Further, older adults are more likely to trust the opinion of their physician than their adult children.

 

When speaking with the doctor, talk about:

  • Any recent diagnosis or condition change that could affect driving safely
  • Specific examples of when you were worried about your loved one driving
  • Any recent accidents, close calls, or traffic tickets
  • Your loved one’s worries about if they give up their driver’s license

 

No matter what, you should trust your intuition. Senior driving deaths and injuries are a serious public health concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each day, more than 20 older adults are killed in vehicle accidents. As for injuries, almost 700 seniors are injured each day because of a crash.



How can you start the conversation?

Losing the ability to drive can have serious emotional ramifications for older adults. In fact, losing the car keys often ranks as more detrimental to emotional health than moving out of their family home. You can make the conversation about your worries more productive by following these tips:

  • Involve your loved one’s physician
  • Talk to your siblings about it to gain their insight
  • Ask your loved one if they feel safe and confident when they are driving
  • Express your worries about your loved one’s safety
  • Genuinely listen to their point of view without judgment
  • Leave the conversation unfinished if tensions rise
  • Be prepared to bring up the topic a few times before a resolution
  • Ask if your loved one would be open to taking a Rules of the Road driving test at the local DMV



How can I make the transition easier?

Finally, your loved one might resist giving up their car keys because they aren’t sure what life looks like without them. You can ease that transition by:

  • Learning more about the transportation services available in your loved one’s town
  • Taking more public transportation trips together to run errands or explore
  • Talk to family members and friends to see who would be available to help out with taking your loved one to appointments or on errands
  • Set up counseling appointments for your loved one so they can speak to an experienced professional throughout this life change



What if they resist?

If your loved one still refuses to give up the keys even after a recommendation from their physician, you can encourage them to be assessed by the DMV or by a certified driver rehabilitation specialist, or CDRS. Find a CDRS by asking for referrals from a physician, physical therapist, or the local Area Agency on Aging.

 

This is a difficult conversation to start, and it takes some patience and good listening to make any ground. However, if your loved one is an unsafe driver, it is best to begin the conversation before they hurt themselves or someone else.

Haley Burress

Haley Burress is a senior care and caregiving expert. She worked in senior care for more than 15 years before she started writing for senior care agencies and professional caregivers full time. She has experience in Skilled Nursing Facilities, Assisted Living, Independent Living, and Memory Care as well as Adult Day services and home care.