Aging alone doesn’t mean that you or your loved one (often a parent) should stop driving, but given how dangerous driving can be for seniors, knowing when to stop is something to take seriously. AAA states that since seniors are more fragile, their fatality rates are 17% higher than younger drivers, and the CDC reported that in 2017, almost 7,700 older adults (aged 65+) were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and more than 257,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries.
If you’re unsure if your parent should stop driving, there are many signs that can help you identify when it’s the right time to turn over the keys. Even if you think the signs have become abundantly clear that your parent should stop driving, it might not be obvious to them.
Discussing this sensitive topic can be very difficult and emotional for many, but because of how dangerous driving can be for seniors, it is an important conversation to have if you believe it’s time for your loved one to stop driving.
Giving up driving is often the hardest conversation adult children have with their parents -- even more than finances or final wishes. Because it can be so difficult, think through both the options and the conversation before diving into conversation. If you know that your parent will react negatively to the conversation and that it will take a lot of convincing, then try starting the conversation early knowing that it might take awhile to get them to turn over the keys.
Prepare for the conversation
Before starting the conversation, it often helps to understand what kinds of feelings the loss of driving can have on a person. For example, it can often feel like losing independence and control, and there may be fears of becoming a burden on loved ones. Knowing that giving up driving can be so emotional, try to enter the conversation calmly and respectfully. Not being able to drive is a very big change, so being supportive can help the conversation go more smoothly.
Also, family dynamics are different in every household. If many family members are concerned about your parent’s driving, consider which family member should be the one to have this sensitive conversation. It’s often better for just one family member to have the conversation. If lots of people are involved, your parent might feel like the whole family is ganging up on them.
If you think that there will be pushback or disagreement on your parent’s driving ability, try to have specific, concrete examples that highlight why you feel they should stop driving. Are there continually fresh dents or scapes on the car? When driving with your parent, are they having a lot of “close calls?” Are they missing or reacting slowly to traffic signals? You can read about more signs that it’s time to stop driving to see what to look for when you’re riding with your parent.
There is a possibility that your parent will have a different opinion on their driving ability than you do. They may insist there is no decline in their ability to drive and are perfectly capable of being safe. If you believe that your concerns are justified, you could consider turning to a third party to weigh in on the decision. You could reach out to the following for second opinion or evaluation:
- Primary care physician
- Vision specialist
- Driving rehabilitation specialist
- Driving skills evaluators
- Driving occupational therapist
- Social worker
Sometimes hearing feedback from a trained professional can help convince older adults that it’s time to stop driving.
Offer alternative options
If there really is a lot of disagreement on if it is necessary to stop driving, sometimes small tweaks can help before fully handing over the keys. For example, if you notice that the issues with driving are isolated to a specific time or scenario, discontinuing driving in just those situations could be a good place to start. Maybe they can start with not driving after dusk if night vision is fading, or maybe highway driving can be avoided if keeping up with traffic is a problem. Consider making these small transitions if driving ability is affected only during particular situations but are fine otherwise. Slowing the transition might help maintain feelings of independence and can be a good first step in the process. However, if driving has become an issue most of the time, to keep them and others safe, it’s important to have them consider giving up driving altogether. Because the loss of driving can bring on such negative feelings, present your parent some alternative transportation options so they can still participate in the activities that they enjoy. Carpooling, public transportation, and rideshare services, like Onward Rides, can mean little disruption to established schedules and remaining connected to others.
At Onward, we’ve found that many seniors have even embraced their new friendships with their drivers, so we have implemented a feature where riders can designate drivers as their “Favorite Drivers” the can get the same driver that they’re not only familiar with, but they’re friends with. Some drivers have gotten to know their riders so well that we’ve had drivers create specific playlists for their riders based on their music preference!
Giving up driving can be very hard, but with your loving support and great alternative options, not only are you keeping your parents safe, you can also help maintain their independence and connection to their community.