senior handing out keys

When Should Seniors Stop Driving?

As we age, so do our vision, reaction time and fine motor skills. All these things are involved in operating a vehicle. As drivers on the road, it’s not only our own safety but also that of other drivers and passengers, that’s our responsibility.

If you have an elderly parent whose ability to drive is starting to make you worry, you’re not alone—it’s a conversation many adult children must eventually face.

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And it can be difficult, as seniors have a lifetime of driving experience behind them and value the independence offered by driving a car.

Still, when safety is at stake, it’s important to know how to address this topic with your parent or elderly loved one.

Five signs it may be time to hand over the keys

One of the first things you can do is ride along and observe your parent behind the wheel. Warning signs their driving abilities are declining to include the following:

  1. Becoming easily distracted or agitated behind the wheel.
  2. Frequent close calls or near-collisions.
  3. Forgetting directions and getting lost in familiar surroundings.
  4. Difficulty judging gaps in traffic or following traffic signs.
  5. Decreased reaction time for braking, or confusing the brake with the gas pedal.

How to talk to someone that needs to stop driving

Be gentle, but honest 

Your decision is one made out of love and concern. Simply tell your parent you want them to be happy, but also safe.

Involve other family members, if possible

You don’t want your parent to feel you’re “ganging up,” but the concern of multiple people can help you illustrate your point.

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Explain your concern

If you’ve observed questionable driving, it may help to bring up what you saw. Simply state you’re afraid for the safety of your parent, as well as others on the road.

Request a driving test

This can include an eye exam and ride-along driving check-up. To learn more, contact your local office of motor vehicles. The advice of a professional may help your parent understand what needs to happen next.

Offer help to maintain independence

A loss of independence can be a devastating blow to an active senior. However, elder care services in your area can provide transportation to help your parent get out and about, and complete all desired errands.

Be patient, but persistent

You may not succeed in the first conversation. But don’t give up. It’s important your loved one understands your concern and hands over the keys.

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Papa provides the first on-demand assistance and socialization service for seniors through our Papa Pals—nursing and healthcare students qualified and ready to help!

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Senior driving

Helping a Senior Who Should Stop Driving

It's vital to make the decision to stop driving before tragic events occur. Family or caregivers can often see it coming, and need to act kindly then.

The need for an older adult to stop driving may show up as a series of events.

It could be minor accidents, expressions of fear on the senior's part, or observations of family, neighbors, or friends.

Sometimes the senior may limit driving to necessary trips to the store, showing an increased awareness of perceived dangers.

Why a Senior Should Stop Driving

The first and foremost reason a senior should limit or stop driving is a risk to himself and others on the road.

Although age is one of the risk factors, each case must be dealt with individually due to the wide variation in performance.

There is often a precipitating incident which makes it clear that a change is needed in order to maintain safety.

It could be due to any of a number of causes including medications, slower reaction times, depression, and cognitive issues.

Even health-related issues like reduced balance, hearing, vision, loss of neck movement can affect driving safety.

Safety is the main reason for a senior to stop driving. When a person has reached a point in life where it's time to stop driving, it's not about just that person.

It is about the safety of all concerned including others who could be harmed or killed.

Avoiding proactive steps in order to not hurt feelings is of little comfort to people whose lives were at risk in unnecessary accidents.

How to Take Away a Senior's Car Keys

Depending on the situation, the caregiver will seek a method which causes the least pain for all concerned.

Seek professional help from a physician, counselor or trusted friend who is aware of recent events.

This can provide needed objectivity in looking at all the information available and allow for candid yet caring conversation with the senior driver.

Care should be given when addressing the issue with the older adult.

There may be a discussion about risks and reflection on situations where dangers of injury were obvious.

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There is no doubt that the average senior citizens wish no harm to others, and would find this possibility troubling.

This would help clarify that it is not just about them; it is about the safety of others also.

A statement like this may help: "I love you and I want you to live a long life without guilt or injury."

The reference to guilt can be explained as what could happen to passengers of other cars if they are seriously hurt or killed.

If possible, gently convince the senior to make the choice not to drive.

But sometimes, more assertiveness is needed on the part of the caregiver.

Some family members have been known to make a car malfunction to avoid its being driven, but that is temporary at best, and manipulative and unfriendly at worst.

In that case, a spouse or caregiver may have to do the driving or make arrangements for transportation.

It is vital to make every effort to not reduce the senior's lifestyle, and worth the time invested in seeing that the usual activities of the church, community, etc are still possible.

Many cities have special affordable transportation for such cases. Ft. Lauderdale has Tops Paratransit Services.

Ways to Give Some Control to Seniors Who Have Stopped Driving

If the spouse or another family member is driving, let the non-driving senior navigate without criticism.

This person often has a long-lived experience in driving and may know where to turn to avoid traffic and similar tricks to driving the usual places.

The driver would do well to welcome this input, and not be offended even if the information is not needed on a particular occasion.

It can provide a smoother transition to not driving, and allow the non-driving senior to still feel included in the driving process.

It can also be helpful to seek counseling from the professional who recommended or agreed that it was time to stop driving.

This is especially needed where memory issues are involved.

Friends and family can also reinforce the decision by providing rides on a regular basis

Where possible, show dependence on the senior in another way like spending time together in his or her garden or other interests.

Remind the non-driving senior of contributions to various lives over the years and continue to treat him or her as a cherished person.

It is worth exploring ways to give some control to seniors who stop driving by counting to treat him or her as a cherished person.

Putting kindness and careful thought into handling this touchy event makes life safer and more pleasant for all involved.

Papa can be a great help by providing a ride and an admiring grandkid to drive a senior around.