Adults want their independence, it’s human nature. Unfortunately, there comes a time when driving may be a hazard for your parent and others. Age itself isn’t necessarily a reason to take the keys away. But if driving skills are suffering or judgment seems impaired, you’ll want to have a talk before it’s too late.
We at Oasis have suggestions to help you determine if your parent should no longer drive, as well as tips for making the conversation a little less uncomfortable.
Age and Driving
As we age, decreased vision, impaired hearing, slower reflexes, reduced coordination, and worsening health conditions all affect our ability to safely operate a car. There’s no cutoff as to when a person should stop driving, but it’s worth noting that older adults are more likely to receive traffic citations and get into accidents than younger drivers. Things like neck pain can make it hard to turn and check if the lane is clear. Diminished arm strength can make it hard to turn the wheel sharply. Older drivers can also lose the ability to effectively focus and carry out the many simultaneous actions required to drive.
Get All the Information
Before you can decide if your parent needs to give up the car keys, ride as a passenger in the car while they run some errands. This is the best way to experience their driving abilities first-hand.
As you ride along in the car, take a mental note of different habits and actions.
Are they confident drivers? Do they seem anxious or hesitant?
Do they swerve or drift into other lanes?
Are they obeying all the traffic signs and rules of the road?
Are they driving too fast or too slowly?
Are they fully aware of their surroundings?
Can they easily navigate the route?
Are they driving defensively?
Are they alert behind the wheel?
If they are making mistakes repeatedly, you’ll want to prepare yourself for the conversation.
Talk with Your Parent’s Medical Provider
Medical professionals can also give you some insight regarding your parent’s driving abilities and any impact medical conditions could have on driving. For instance, if they’re experiencing vision troubles to the point driving is unsafe, you’ll want to take away the keys to avoid the risk of injury. States differ on the eyesight requirements, but each state does have regulations.
Have a talk with your parent’s physician privately for their expert opinion of whether they are capable of driving alone safely.
Having the Conversation
There’s just no easy way to tell a parent to stop driving. They have probably been driving for their adult entire life. Driving provides a sense of independence and understanding and respecting the significance of this is very important before having the conversation. When approaching the topic, be as empathetic as possible. You should also prepare for the conversation to be difficult, especially if your parent doesn’t see this coming.
Strike Up Conversations About Driving Early and Often
Lay some groundwork by striking up conversations about driving and addressing your concerns early and often. If you noticed anything while riding with your parent, bring up the mistakes and ask if they realized they made them. Avoid criticizing them and speak from the heart.
Validate your parent’s feelings and offer constructive feedback. If they struggle with night driving, casually suggest driving during the day only, and offer to give them rides at night.
Let them know you care about their safety without allowing it to turn into an argument. If they don’t remember a mistake you noticed, move on. Don’t dwell on the driving error but take note. This could signal a short-term memory issue.
Be patient and take it slow. Frequent conversations will make it easier to eventually discuss turning over the keys.
Have Your Parent Talk to Someone They Trust
If you just don’t feel comfortable approaching the topic at all, ask someone your parent trusts to start the discussion. Maybe a spouse, sibling, or close friend can at least bring up driving and explore the possibility of giving it up. Think about the person your parents trust the most.
You may very well be the family member they trust most, so consider having the support of other family members in the same room if you feel the conversation is truly best coming from you. Create a space where your parents are comfortable talking and giving their opinion on the matter.
Gather the Evidence
Your parents may not agree with you. They may feel that their driving doesn’t need to be modified at all. If they don’t see a problem or issue with their driving abilities, you can provide them with hard evidence about their driving. Show them why their driving can be dangerous for them and others on the road. Cite things you observed while riding along, note recent medical changes, and mention new prescriptions that can impact driving.
Help your parents see that you only have their best interest at heart and want to keep them safe.
Other Transportation Options
A major reason your parents may be reluctant to give up driving is a fear of being stuck at home. No one wants to be reliant on others for their day-to-day activities. If your parents are active and social, they may think they’ll need to give this up along with the keys. Assure them this isn’t the case.
However, taking the car isn’t just a sacrifice for your parents, it’s also one for you and their other family members as you will surely have to give them rides. There are also many publicly funded, private and volunteer-based transportation options in most communities
Explain the Risks
According to the Center for Disease Control, drivers over the age of 70 have a higher crash death rate per mile driven than drivers between the ages of 35 and 54. This increased risk of death is mainly due to an older person’s vulnerability to injury.
Although your parent is likely aware of the risks associated with driving, sometimes it’s easier to not think about something you know poses a real threat. Discuss how a wreck could affect them physically, mentally, and financially. If someone else gets hurt, what happens? Aside from the moral consequences, there’s the risk of financially losing everything if they cause a major accident with property damage or bodily injury that exceeds their policy limits.
Emphasize That It’s Not Only About Them
If they hurt themselves in an auto accident, it affects their family and loved ones. If they hurt another person, it affects that person’s family and loved ones, too. When lives are on the line, it cannot be a decision based on pride or reluctance.
If their driving isn’t to the point where you need to take away the keys immediately, you can still negotiate without much risk. Suggest daytime driving only or driving only short distances.
However, if you’ve reached the point where you’re worried their driving is too risky, you’ll need to be stern. They may feel anger and resentment towards you – and you may feel bad having to upset them. These feelings will eventually pass, but the consequences of an auto accident can be catastrophic and life-changing for the whole family.
Let Them Test Their Abilities
If they are adamant about not turning over the keys, allow them the opportunity to test their skills. Head to your local Department of Motor Vehicles and have your parents take a driving test and vision test. If they fail, the decision is out of their hands (and yours), and they’ll have no choice but to surrender their license
Losing the ability to drive is certainly a very difficult transition for older adults. With support, empathy, and preparation, you can make it a little easier for your loved one and yourself.