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When It's Time for Your Parent to Stop Driving

Time to Intervene

Most older people will tell you that they mean to stop driving “someday.” They'll go on to say that they'll “face it when they have to,” or they'll know when they have to stop. But time slips by and denial sets in, and before you know it, they're on the road endangering themselves and every driver, along with their precious cargo. You know you have to do something, but you, too, have been in denial because the confrontation is just too difficult.


Although drivers over the age of 55 do better than very young drivers, they don't fare as well as drivers age 35 to 54. Drivers age 75 or older are three times more likely to die in a crash than 20-year-old drivers. By 2030, the number of traffic fatalities involving the elderly will be 35 percent greater than the total number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 1995.

Don't use terms like “giving up the keys,” or “you've got to quit driving.” Instead start the conversation with “You know, Dad, when you planned your retirement from your job, you had a number of things lined up; now that you're approaching retirement from driving, what should we line up so that you can get to where you want to go?”

The focus changes from giving up something to continuing to get the same thing but in a different way. By focusing on the word retirement you're tapping into something that most people and society see as positive—an earned rite of passage. If you can line up drivers and other sources of transportation to make life easier, it could be seen as something Dad has earned. This also takes attention away from his disabilities and any hitting on his male ego because he can no longer drive. Let's face it, guys and cars have a special bond we women don't totally get. Plenty of ego is tied up under that hood.

Okay, if you've tried all the approaches and older driver strategies we've gone over and Dad's still putting the pedal to the metal and you won't even get in the car with him, try these:

  • Call the Department of Motor Vehicles and ask what your state laws are regarding older drivers. Do they require re-testing of drivers when they reach a certain age? Could they move it up on your dad or mom? Do they have a process for anonymous reporting of unsafe drivers? What happens if you were to report your dad? If he were to be seen by his eye doctor, would the doctor be forced to report his condition (many states have such laws). If all else fails, you may have to report him.
  • Convince Dad that if he wants to keep his license then he should see his eye doctor; perhaps new glasses would make the difference. Do let the doctor know of your concerns prior to the appointment and that you want this held in strictest of confidence (unless you're able to bring this up in front of Dad). Let the doctor examine him and decide if he can no longer drive. Most doctors don't like being faced with this issue either, especially if the doctor's been seeing your dad or mom for a good number of years. The doctor may have someone else in the practice see him.
  • Try reasoning with your dad by tapping his protective instincts; he's always protected you from harm and would never intentionally hurt anybody. If he keeps driving, he'll hurt some other father's family. You love him a great deal but you've reached a point where you won't place your own kids in the car with him. Appeal to his love of his grandkids. Just focusing on him hurting himself probably won't work—he's still thinking he's invincible.

If all of these strategies fail and you know in your heart that he absolutely should not be driving, it's your civic duty to report Dad to the proper authorities to take his license away. Hiding keys or disengaging the motor won't cut it.

The bottom line? Driving is not a right, it's a privilege. You can't irresponsibly look the other way and hope nothing happens. On the other hand, losing your license can be devastating. For many older people, it marks the beginning of the end. No more independence. Depending upon family and friends on their schedules is far too humbling for your independence-loving Dad. Many older folks choose isolation in their home rather than ask for a ride. Giving up the keys solves one problem but it begins a whole host of others if you don't find ways to keep your Dad connected to the community.

Using Public Transportation

Silver Lining

How about getting your parents a driver or using a cab service? You'd be surprised how inexpensive this option can look when you add up the costs of maintaining a car: the gas, inspections, maintenance, and repair, along with the insurance. Break down those monthly costs into how many rides your mom or dad can afford—it's a lot more than you think!

Our country has become so car-dependent that our public transportation system has suffered because of it. If you've spent any time in Europe you know what I mean; there are plenty of trains, they're fast, clean, and on time; you even find lots of buses and subways where you're treated to classical music. With the great numbers of older drivers hitting the highways and the onslaught of baby boomers joining their ranks, we had better start thinking fast and create a transportation system that is senior-friendly.

But in the meantime, who offers what? Many communities offer some sort of shared-ride program where vans pick up older people who cannot use public transportation. They'll take them to doctor's appointments, grocery shopping, malls, and senior centers for a small fee. Call your local transportation authority to find out what's available. If your parent lives in subsidized “Section 8” housing operated by HUD (Housing and Urban Development) the housing development often runs its own van service. Local senior centers also make arrangements with shared-ride programs and cab companies, or run their own vans to pick up seniors who can't get there on public transit. Assisted living centers often offer transportation as part of their package so the elderly can give up their cars when they come to live there. Churches and synagogues often have their own vans that can be used to transport their elder members to grocery stores, services, and special events. Two trips that you could reduce are to the grocery store and to the pharmacy, because many of them now deliver. But don't go overboard on the home delivery route; it's better if Mom and Dad can be out and about, if possible.

If your parents are retired drivers, take the time to get on the phone and hunt down transportation options for them so they stay active. You'll be doing more for your parents' mental health than any pill ever could.

More on: Aging Parents


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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