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How To Take the Keys Away From an Elderly Driver: A Step by Step Guide

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
14 minute readLast updated March 29, 2023

For many adults, speaking with an aging loved one about their driving abilities can be a challenge. Because driving is so closely tied to their independence, many older adults resist giving it up even long after their ability to do so safely has become questionable. Arriving at a solution that alleviates family members’ concerns and satisfies a senior’s desire for autonomy requires patience, compromise, and a step-by-step approach.

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To be clear, older drivers are more likely to practice safe driving behaviors than their younger counterparts. However, age-related changes in vision, physical, and reasoning abilities may contribute to higher rates of accidents among adults 70+ .
Though there’s no definite age at which a senior is no longer safe to drive, the risks are likely to increase as they age. While many seniors are happy to give up driving when it no longer feels safe, others tend to minimize the problems that put them at risk. The following steps will help you gather information and have a productive conversation with your loved one about driving.

1. Look for signs of unsafe driving

If you question your loved one’s ability to drive safely, consider riding with them from time to time and subtly keeping notes of your observations. But keep in mind that one ride-along may not offer a complete picture of their driving skills. Consider the following warning signs:
  • Increased accidents or tickets
  • Cancelled car insurance policy or increased premiums
  • Signs of scrapes and minor collisions on their vehicle
  • An inability to turn their head to see behind the car and check blind spots
  • Trouble seeing at night
  • Driving the wrong way
  • Speeding on residential streets or driving too slowly on highways
  • Stopping at all intersections regardless of signs and signals
  • Drifting across lanes
  • Forgetting to wear their seatbelt, turn on headlights, or use turn signals
  • Forgetting where they’re going or getting lost
  • Using the brakes instead of the gas pedal, and vice versa
  • Driving anxiety
  • Slowed response time
  • Trouble making decisions in the moment

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2. Offer solutions instead of demands

It’s human nature to resist when we’re told to stop doing something. Bluntly telling a loved one they need to stop driving could start an argument because it sounds like a threat to their independence.
Many seniors do experience a decline in their quality of life and in their health once they stop driving because they don’t have alternative transportation in place. This can be a particular concern when they have appointments to attend or need to buy groceries. That’s why the best way to approach this conversation is by presenting a variety of choices and solutions to help extend their independence.

3. Research transportation alternatives

Before speaking with your loved one, research the transportation alternatives available in their area. You can offer to help them get familiar with the local bus, subway, or train system; set up an account with a ride-hailing or taxi service; hire a home care companion to drive them around; or reach out to a volunteer service that offers rides for seniors.
When you present these options to your loved one, try to start shifting their mindset. There are people who enjoy life, even in the suburbs, without driving a car. Cutting out car payments, maintenance costs, and insurance premiums can usually offset the fees for taxis or bus fare.

4. Use a transition team

Before you talk with your loved one, speak with friends, other family members, or professionals who have experience in this area. Consulting the following people may help you get a clearer picture of your parent’s abilities, understand the serious implications of unsafe driving, and discover new tips and resources:
  • A senior driving safety examiner to schedule a driving assessment
  • Other family members who have similar concerns
  • A representative at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for help reviewing your loved one’s driving skills
  • An elder law attorney who can discuss the legal consequences of unsafe driving
  • Your parent’s doctor, who can recommend driving restrictionsYour parent’s friends and neighbors who may have witnessed their unsafe driving
  • The local police department, if your parent poses a clear safety hazard yet refuses to stop driving

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5. Have a conversation with your loved one

Patience, respect, and a willingness to compromise are crucial for this difficult conversation. The following tips may also help you arrive at a solution and avoid conflict:
  • Ensure you’re prepared. Organize notes containing observations and other key points pertaining to your loved one’s driving abilities. Talk to anyone who’s voiced concerns about their driving so you can present a unified front.
  • Frame the conversation as a change, not a loss. A lot of the resistance to giving up driving stems from a fear of losing independence. However, most communities offer services that can help your loved one remain active, mobile, and safe.
  • State your concerns and present alternative methods of getting around. If your loved one insists that they’re fine, offer to take them for a senior driver safety evaluation or to get an opinion from their doctor. If they become upset, take a break from the discussion and resume at another time. If they’re interested in transportation alternatives, explore the options with them. Change is always easier with support.
  • Remember that this discussion may be a process, not a one-time thing. Start by compromising. For example, instead of handing over their keys, have your loved one agree that they will not drive at night or on the freeway. If warning signs persist, discuss safer alternatives or additional driving limitations.
  • Balance feelings with realistic concerns about safety. Ultimately, being safe is in your loved one’s best interest. Explain that you’re worried about their well-being and that of other drivers and pedestrians in the community.
  • Know your options if your loved one refuses to stop driving. Some families may take drastic actions like hiding a senior’s car keys or immobilizing their car. These steps may keep them off the road but can spark additional conflict and may be illegal. In some states, you can request a driver review with the DMV. In some cases, speaking with the police about how to legally stop someone from driving may be necessary to keep your loved one safe.

Can a doctor stop an elderly person from driving?

No, but a doctor can assess an elderly person’s physical and mental health and determine if there are factors present that could affect their ability to drive safely. In some states, this medical status report can be presented to the DMV as proof they should stop driving.

Finding help caring for the needs of an aging loved one

When a loved one’s safety is a main concern, a patient, unified approach is often best . Making care decisions for an aging parent can be challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. Speak to one of our Senior Care Advisors to learn more about in-home care services and senior living options that can help keep your loved one safe, active, and engaged.


Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

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