For many families, talking to an elderly parent about giving up the car keys can be a very difficult and sensitive topic. While there’s no one way to handle this issue, here are a few suggestions that can help you evaluate your parent’s driving and ease them out from behind the wheel when the time is right.
To get a clear picture of your parent’s driving abilities, a good first step, if you haven’t already done so, is to take a ride with them and watch for problem areas. For example: Do they have difficulty seeing, backing up, or changing lanes? Do they react slowly, get confused easily, or make poor driving decisions? Do they drive at inappropriate speeds, tailgate, or drift between lanes? Also, has your parent had any fender benders or tickets lately, or have you noticed any dents or scrapes on the vehicle? These, too, are red flags.
If you need some help and your parent is willing, consider hiring a driver rehabilitation specialist who’s trained to evaluate elderly drivers and provide safety suggestions. This type of assessment typically costs between $200 and $400. To locate a professional in your area, visit AOTA.org.
After your assessment, if you think it’s still safe for your parent to drive, see if they would be willing to take an older driver refresher course.
These courses will show them how aging affects driving skills and offers tips and adjustments to help them stay safe. Taking a class may also earn your parent a discount on their auto insurance. To locate a class, contact your local AAA or AARP (AARPdriversafety.org, 888-227-7669). Most courses cost around $20 to $30 and can be taken online.
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If, however, your assessment shows that your parent really does need to stop driving, you need to have a talk with them, but don’t get carried away. If you begin with a dramatic outburst like “Dad, you’re going to kill someone!” you’re likely to trigger resistance. Start by simply expressing your concern for their safety.
For more tips on how to talk to your elderly parent about this and evaluate driving skills, the Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab offers a variety of resources to assist you. Visit TheHartford.com/lifetime and click on “Publications” on the menu bar, then on the “We Need to Talk” guidebook.
If your parent refuses to quit, you have several options. One possible solution is to suggest a visit to his doctor who can give him a medical evaluation, and if warranted, “prescribe” that he stops driving. Older people will often listen to their doctor before they will listen to their own families.
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If they still refuse, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to see if they can help. Or call in an attorney to discuss with your parent the potential financial and legal consequences of a crash or injury. If all else fails, you may just have to take away the keys.
Once your parent stops driving, they’re going to need other ways to get around, so help them create a list of names and phone numbers of family, friends, and local transportation services that they can call on.
To find out what transportation services are available in your parent’s area contact Rides in Sight (RidesInSight.org, 855-607-4337), and the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116), which will direct you to his area agency on aging for assistance.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.
Originally published September 16, 2022
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