You’re traveling with Dad on the highway, and he’s driving at 45 miles per hour in the middle lane, oblivious to the traffic speeding around him, the stink eye, and rude hand gestures you’re getting from other drivers trying to pass. Or perhaps you’ve noticed dents and scrapes on your elderly mother’s car, but she doesn’t recall how they got there. The last thing you want is your parent having a car accident, getting hurt, killed, or hurting someone else. However, taking away the car keys is often tantamount to taking away a person’s independence. How do you know when your parent really shouldn’t drive anymore and just as importantly, how can you convince him/her to give up the keys?

It’s an unfortunate fact that older drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), warning signs that an older person may not be able to drive safely include the following:

• Getting lost on routes that should be familiar
• Receiving tickets for driving violations
• Experiencing a near-miss or crash
• Being advised to limit/stop driving due to a health reason
• Being overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving
• Taking any medication that might affect driving safely
• Speeding or driving too slowly for no reason

A person’s driving performance – not age – is what determines fitness to drive, but many older people experience some age-related physical and mental decline. Expect that it will likely not be easy to have “the conversation” with an aging parent about driving, and you may get a defensive reaction. Sometimes the conversation is best started by a trusted older friend or relative who has also had to cut back or stop driving.

Preparation is key. Have the information ready about why you feel driving is no longer safe. This may include your own observations, traffic tickets your parent has received, or a medical condition or medications that can interfere with safe driving. In some cases, your parent may still be able to drive but with modifications, such as only driving during the daytime, avoiding busy roads, rush hour traffic, or not driving in bad weather. AAA and AARP offer driving safety classes for older adults. Some families enlist the help of the person’s physicians to make recommendations, arrange for a formal driving evaluation, or contact DMV to request a driving assessment.

Remember, the goal is to preserve the older person’s dignity, freedom, and independence but ensure his/her safety and the safety of the community. Have a plan ready for alternate transportation, whether the family will do more driving for the parent or will arrange for driving or delivery services. In some communities, public transportation may be an option to add to the mix.

Getting your parent to agree to an action plan is a good first step, and will likely require continual review. Click Here for more tips on having “the conversation” and the resources that are available.

My company, Senior Transitions, helps families who are dealing with caregiver stress. If you would like to discuss your family’s needs, please contact us at or 850-894-6720 and we’ll be happy to help you.