As seniors get older, they may lose their ability to safely operate a car. You may begin noticing some unsafe driving practices like speeding, improper lane changes, slowed reaction times, and even getting lost.
It’s time to have a difficult conversation, but how do you start? Consider using some of the following tips to confront an aging and unsafe driver.
Having a Conversation With Your Aging Loved One About Giving up the Keys
Many older people can continue to drive well into their golden years, but sometimes it is unsafe for them to do so. If you take their keys away, your loved one may feel as if they are losing their independence. Although you may receive an acrimonious reaction, approaching the big talk with understanding will allow the concern behind your words to shine through. Here are some tips to get the conversation started.
Write Your Script
While you may not need a literal script in hand when you talk to the older person in your life about letting go of the keys, you may want to take some time to create a mental list with specific examples of impaired driving that cause you concern Most of us do not like hearing criticism, but you may receive a more favorable response if you have concrete instances you can point about their unsafe driving.
Get Your Family Involved
Remember when you started to drive? It felt like you got the keys to the kingdom. You could explore the world. No one could stop you.
The odds are that your parents felt the same way when they first got behind the wheel of a car. They have been driving and getting themselves around town for many years.
Thinking that they will be stuck inside the house, unable to get groceries, go to the doctor, or go shopping when they need can cause anxiety. When you sit down to have the conversation, let your parent or other aging loved one know that your family will surround them and be available to meet their needs while keeping them safe.
Explore Other Options
When it comes to health-related appointments for your loved one, you may be able to create an alternative transportation plan for seniors through Medicaid's Non-Emergency Medical Transportation program.
Some states also have other programs that will help your aging loved ones get to doctor’s appointments, grocery shop, and socialize without putting themselves in danger after it is no longer safe for them to drive. Letting go of the keys may be easier if your aging loved one knows they will have access to reliable transportation.
Elder Drivers Suffering From Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Forms of Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are debilitating illnesses that severely affect the memory of patients that suffer from these conditions. If your parents or other aging loved ones have one of these conditions, you may need to take more drastic steps to stop them from driving. It may be impossible to negotiate with a person affected by these memory issues. However, there are options available to help keep your family safe.
If your loved one suffers from memory issues, some of your options to stop them from driving may include:
Disable the Car
Depending on the make and model of the car, you may be able to disable the car remotely. If that option is not available, then you can detach the battery, empty the gas tank and not refill it, or lock the steering wheel.
Sell the Car
In extreme cases, you may need to consider selling the car. This option may cause temporary tension between you and your parents, but it may be the best way to keep them safe.
Report the Driver to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
You can anonymously report an unsafe driver to the DMV. You do not need a doctor to support your claim. Your loved one will not know you reported them.
Some states require people to renew their licenses more often as they age. The DMV can refuse to renew an unsafe driver’s license.
Defensive Driving Course for Seniors
Defensive driving classes may be another helpful step; these courses can help older drivers increase their reaction time, situational awareness, and motor control skills. Other benefits of taking a defensive driving course include:
- Tips to protect yourself against aggressive drivers.
- Possible car insurance discounts.
- Vehicle maintenance tips to help keep you and your passengers safe on the road.
- Local traffic law lessons.
You can complete the AARP Smart Driver course at your own pace and online.
What Is the New Rule for Senior Drivers in Your State?
Note that each state has different driver’s license renewal procedures, including for older adults. For instance, in Arizona, drivers aged 65 and older must renew their license every five years, and this includes having to provide proof of adequate vision.
View the renewal procedures for each state, last updated in February 2023, online.