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Talking To A Parent About Unsafe Driving And What To Do If They Refuse To Give Up The Keys

Nov 10, 2021 | Children of Aging Parents

As an adult with aging parents, you may have recently developed concerns about one of your parent’s abilities to drive safely. This concern may result from a recent car accident, driving violation or a progressing medical condition.

According to the CDC, older drivers, particularly those aged 65+, are at risk of serious injury, and almost 700 are injured in car crashes each day.  So, if you believe it may be time for a parent to stop driving or at least make plans to do so at a future time, you need to prepare to have what will likely be a difficult conversation.

Below we share some tips and what to do if your parent refuses to give up the keys after voicing your concern.

Before having a conversation about driving with your parent, there is a little groundwork to do. First, you will want to determine who and when to have the conversation. Next, organize and write down your thoughts and research transportation solutions.

Who should speak up?

Although it may be your idea to have a conversation about a parent retiring from driving, you may not be the best person to deliver the message.

According to The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab, a parent is almost twice as likely to listen to a spouse’s driving concerns over an adult child.  If possible, you may want to talk with other family members first, include them in the process and determine who should start a conversation.

Bring facts and specifics

Identify specific incidents or events that cause concern, write them down and be ready to speak to the facts. For example, it may be easier to have a conversation about when your mother ran through multiple stop signs (with you in the car) than speaking to how you feel about her driving.

If you don’t drive with your loved one often, get in the car and take a drive. Take mental notes and speak to particulars when the time is right.

Research other transportation options and solutions

Research alternative transportation solutions. Your loved one still needs to get around town to buy groceries, visit doctors and meet with friends. If you suggest he stop driving and don’t have solutions to help him maintain the current lifestyle, you may be met with fierce resistance.

Some things you may research:

  •       Is there good public transportation in the area?
  •       Is Uber an option?
  •       Are family members available to take your parent out on errands?
  •       Can you take your parent to doctor’s appointments?
  •       Is grocery delivery available?

Answers to these questions may replace the “need” to drive, but having someone deliver food to your parent, doesn’t replace the independence of providing food for yourself and your family. Likewise, if your father loves cars, it doesn’t replace how it makes him feel when he drives. Keep this in mind when you have the “talk” about driving. It will make for a more empathetic conversation.

Try to reduce or limit driving before taking the keys away

If your loved one can still drive safely, try to minimize the need for driving or ask her to limit driving to specific times. For example, if you feel comfortable with your father driving during the day, you may ask him to stop driving at night. Sometimes the best strategy is to reduce the amount of driving; instead of demanding the keys at once.

Introduce the idea early and often

One of the best ways to have the “driving” conversation is to introduce the idea as early as possible (before a major incident happens) and make it collaborative. The goal is to get your parent to think about the possibility of no longer driving and communicate any concerns or ideas on how you may help in the future.

These are some of the questions you may ask:

“Have you thought about what would happen in the future if you were unable to drive for some reason?”

“What would be the best way to approach you about driving concerns?”

“Have you had any concerns about driving?”


What to do if a parent still refuses to give up the keys

Unfortunately, sometimes you have to take more extreme measures if your parent’s driving has already reached a dangerous level to themselves and others on the road.

Bring in a medical professional

If you have tried everything and your parent still refuses to stop driving, consider having his physician speak candidly with him about retiring from driving. Occasionally, a recommendation from a trusted professional can make all the difference.

Report as an unsafe driver

As a last resort, if you feel a loved one can no longer drive safely, you can report them to the DMV. You will need to fill out a report and provide specifics on your concerns. The DMV will then use that information to act.

If a medical condition impairs your loved one’s ability to drive, the DMV may require a medical release or eligibility form to continue driving. If the concern is solely based on your loved one’s ability to operate the vehicle, the DMV may require a driving reassessment.


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