Putting the Brakes on Your Parents’ Driving

Does Dad have a mysterious new scrape on his car? Did Mom run over a curb in the parking lot because she just didn’t see it? While one mishap doesn’t mean it’s time to stop driving (after all, middle-aged drivers do these same things, too), if you see a pattern of accidents, poor judgment, and decreasing skills, it’s time to make a change.

Asking Your Elderly Parent to Stop Driving Can be Hard on Both of You

You’re worried about your parent’s safety and that of other drivers and pedestrians. But to your parent, giving up the keys means giving up independence and becoming beholden on someone else—very hard for someone who’s always been self-reliant. For an elderly person, it’s a major loss. Think how you would feel if you had to ask for a ride every time you wanted to get groceries, go to the library, or visit a friend. Plus, you’d have to wait until the errand or visit fits into someone else’s schedule. For your parent, the end of driving signals the end of an era of being independent and competent.

Your parent may also feel angry, frustrated or humiliated—as if he or she is being treated like a child. And yet, can you live with the possibility that your parent could miss a stop sign or get flustered and plow into another driver, hurting everyone involved? The approach you take depends on the level of impairment. Here are several options.

Intermediate Steps – Limit Driving Instead of Eliminating It

Sometimes your parent doesn’t need to stop driving altogether, just make some adjustments. Aging Parents and Elder Care.com recommends these changes.

  • Avoid driving at night and, if possible, at dawn or dusk.
  • Drive only to familiar locations like the grocery store, church and hair salon.
  • Avoid driving to places far away from home.
  • Avoid expressways (freeways) and rush hour traffic.
  • Leave plenty of time to get to the destination.
  • Don’t drive alone.

How to Get Your Parent to Stop Driving

If your parent has dementia or has repeatedly shown bad judgment such as not gauging the speed of oncoming traffic, drifting from lane to lane, or disregarding traffic signals, you need to get him or her off the road.

1. Enlist your parent’s doctor’s help. Often an elderly person will listen to a doctor, whereas the same advice is harder to take from a child, even a middle-aged one.

2. Make it easy for your parent to get where he or she needs to go.

  • Enlist help from friends, relatives, and neighbors to provide a solution that precludes discussion. For example, you could say, “Mom, Aunt Susan will pick you up for the birthday party” and “Dad, what day do you want to go grocery shopping this week?” By letting parents know they can still get places, it’s easier for them to accept the new regime.

3. Research the transportation options for your parent. Find out what’s available –public transit, community shuttles, taxis, or senior transit services. Offer to ride the bus with Dad or take a taxi ride with Mom so your parent will feel more confident.

4. Emphasize the benefits of not driving—less expense and hassle. According AAA figures cited by medicinenet.com, the average cost of owning and running a car is about $6,420 a year. So, by giving up driving, your parent might have as much as $123 a week to use for taxis, buses, or to buy gas for friends and relatives who drive.

5. If all else fails . . . if you parent disregards the doctor’s order to stop driving, you can anonymously request that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Division evaluate your parent. They will evaluate your parent’s driving skills and ask your parent to surrender the license if the skills are up to par.

If your parent has dementia and doesn’t remember he or she shouldn’t drive, hide the keys or disable the car.

Although it’s hard to see your parent’s abilities changing, you have a responsibility to keep your parent and others safe. Often elders realize their skills are slipping, but they’re hoping no one will notice, so it’s a relief to no longer have to keep up a front.