How To Get Your Aging Parents to Stop Driving


Guest post by Marie Clark

For most seniors, driving is a key to the independence they want to hold onto for as long as possible.  However, it is important when to know when it’s time to stop driving. It’s not just for your parent’s safety, it is important for everyone else on the road.  It is often difficult for the aging to accept the fact that they can’t drive safely.

Research studies have shown that elderly are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents than younger drivers.  So, how does an older driver or a concerned family member know it is time to hang up the car keys?


Losing Drive


Chronological age alone does not determine if someone is capable of driving carefully or not, but for older people age-related changes in vision, reflexes and physical abilities slowly creep up over the years and can greatly influence the ability to drive safely.  The following areas are some of the causes for inhibiting your driving skills.

  • Physical fitness – if you have poor muscle strength it can be difficult to steer and maneuver the steering wheel, or shift your head to check blind spots before shifting lanes.
  • Slower reflexes will cause you to take a longer time to react to unexpected behavior from other motorists and pedestrians, and traffic signals.
  • Side effects of medications – older people take more prescription and over-the-counter medicines that might interact with one another or cause confusion while driving.
  • Loss of clarity in vision or hearing.

Tips for Family Members

If you are concerned that your older family member’s driving is dangerous, watch for the following telltale signs that signal a decline in their driving abilities.

  • Do they have difficulty in turning their head, neck, or body while driving or parking?
  • Do not have enough strength to turn the wheel quickly in case of an emergency?
  • Become angry and frustrated easily while driving?
  • Do they fail to yield to pedestrians or motorists who have right of the way?
  • Do they get lost in familiar neighborhoods?
  • Do they find it difficult to drive with glare from oncoming vehicles, or other bright or shiny objects?
  • Have had one or more accidents or near misses recently?


State Laws on Older Drivers

In the United States, many state laws set strict standards for older drivers including:

  • Shorter renewal periods for older drivers.
  • Requiring older drivers to renew their licenses in person only.
  • Administering vision, road or written tests for renewal of licenses.

Different states have different laws, but if the testing authorities are unsatisfied with the performance of older drivers, it may be necessary for you to get a medical evaluation for license renewal.


Getting and Keeping The Keys

  • First, approach your elderly family member with your concerns about their driving abilities before it is too late.
  • Convince the person by preparing a checklist of your observations that include their medical condition, poor eyesight, slower reflexes, recollection of familiar routes, etc.
  • Ask their closest friends and advisors for support. They might doubt you but believe the family lawyer, doctor or religious leader.
  • Cut out news articles about senior related accidents and start a discussion. Plant the seed of a thought now.
  • Get help from family, friends, and neighbors to run errands for the older person.
  • Use shuttle services that are often provided by senior centers and retirement communities to assist with shopping and hospital visits.
  • “Break the car” by unplugging some vital wires if the person does not willingly hand over the car keys to you.
  • Hide the car keys and stop them from driving. By doing so, the caregiver is protecting the elderly person and others on the road.

For more information on elder care and senior safety, including reviews of senior care products like medical alerts, please visit Safety is everyone’s concern, whether it’s at home or on the road.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Grabbing/pick-up tool October 3, 2012 at 5:21 PM

Thank-You for a very insightful article. It brings to light many things to be aware of but probably don’t give them a second thought such as difficulty turning their neck due to arthritis or other problems with their health. I’m sure that people don’t think twice about having enough strength to turn the steering wheel quickly to avoid an accident or to regain control of the car in inclement weather. This can be difficult for anyone let alone an elderly person with slower reflexes. Although I do agree with your points under Losing Drive one thing that bothers me is not with the older people but with the younger people with “texting”. My own daughter does this at times and I’ve told her I will not ride with her in the car if she’s going to do this while driving! Driving is something we need to keep our eyes and ears open and be alert because it’s a privilege to drive. We have to make difficult decisions regarding our loved ones and driving whether they’re young or old. If they get angry with us that’s O.K. because at least their alive and will get over it versus hurting or killing themselves or someone else. Again Thank-You for a great article.

C January 25, 2013 at 2:05 PM

Everyone tells us to “just take the keys”. What everyone doesn’t realize, is how difficult this is. My father is 83, has had his license suspended, and his insurance just cancelled him due to the suspension. The suspension was the result of an emergency room doctor reporting my father to the DMV, due to him losing consciousness behind the wheel. Fortunately he just damaged his car, and didn’t hurt himself or others. My brothers and I are desperately afraid that he will hurt someone or himself eventually. We have had numerous talks with him and he refuses to quit driving. Even though he is aware that he is now illegally on the road, willfully breaking the law. He plans to keep driving until he “gets caught”, which we all know is not a good plan. I have consulted a lawyer, who tells me that unfortunately the law has no tools to control my dad’s behavior. My brothers and I are just waiting for a bomb to drop. The local police are too busy to help us, even though they have told us to call the non emergency response number and report him if we see him out driving. Which we have done. It’s not a high priority for them, which we understand. My brother does not want to get into a physical confrontation with our father, and we both know that this is what will happen if he tries to take the keys. We can’t disable the car. It’s in his garage. If he’s home, the car is home. If the car is home, he is home. And he will keep himself between us and his car. He is extremely stubborn. We cannot get him to see a doctor, and he refuses our help when we try to encourage him to do the right thing. We can tell he has dementia issues, but they are undiagnosed because he will not see a doctor. He is hard of hearing, but again, will not see a doctor. We are at wits end and have exhaused resources in trying to figure out a way to get him to stop driving. He has all of his adult rights, and we cannot infringe on them. He flies under the radar, as he lives alone (widowed), pays his bills, and is not in trouble with the law (yet). We feel so defeated and helpless, as there is no way to get him to stop driving, short of wrestling him to the ground, or breaking into his garage to disable the car, both of which will land us in court, and not solve the problem.

Heidi Hughart February 8, 2013 at 12:53 PM

I am in a similar situation with my 85 y.o. mother. Two years ago when she was in the hospital I requested a geriatric evaluation which determined that she was experiencing some cognitive deficits and their recommendation was that she get a motor vehicle evaluation which would “test” her to determine her ability to drive or not. The problem with this was that she had to be in agreement to have this evaluation which she was not. We tried to “keep” the car from her but she threatened legal action at which time I felt my hands were tied and I returned her car. Here it is two years later and her physical condition has worsened significantly with leg weakness and cognitive deficits. She has been receiving in-home physical therapy and nursing assistance because she has been unable to perform activities of daily living on her own. I spoke with the therapist and he didn’t think she should be driving and he also felt her judgement is very poor especially surrounding safety issues. He suggested I call her physician which I did. The physician told my mother she couldn’t drive a stick shift any longer and that she needed to get an automatic car. I’m am flabbergasted that this physician would basically give her “permission” to keep driving. I too am at my wits end and fear for others safety. If she wants to put herself in harms way that is one thing, I am worried about innocent people getting hurt or worse but feel totally helpless to stop this. Something has to change in our laws taking the responsibility off of family members, it doesn’t work any way. This needs to be a legal issue with severve consequences with lack of compliance.

kpenak March 6, 2013 at 8:58 PM

This appears to be all too common, my sister and I have experienced the same thing and after my Dad’s license was not renewed he continued driving, after his insurance carrier dropped him for not having a license, he continued driving. I and my sister called the police, adult protective services and social services in CA and wrote them all to have it in writing legally. I visited his doctor. All resulted in nothing, he is still driving. He also stopped paying ALL bills. Honestly, he hasn’t paid the IRS, state of CA, homeowners insurance, CA property taxes, utilities, phone and only one turned off anything, his phone.

JoAnn Lowczys March 18, 2013 at 11:04 PM

Glad to know I am not the only one dealing with this. My mother is fighting me every day with this driving situation. I am worried sick! Lawa need to be changed and the elderly need to be retested.

James April 29, 2013 at 10:11 PM

Elders might be a little hardheaded since they are older than you and knows exactly what they do (as they always say). But sometimes, you have to do what’s right even unplugging a certain wire at the vehicle just to keep them away from driving. It’s for their safety, and that should always come first. It was a great read, thanks for the additional information in handling elders. Quite cool.

doris May 9, 2013 at 7:26 PM

The best thing an elderly person can do , is cause an accident and hurt someone , or for them to get killed ! So either take the keys or plan their funeral. Plain as the nose on my face .

Joan May 16, 2013 at 6:48 PM

Is it possible to have the police take the license plate?

JosiPoo July 25, 2013 at 10:56 AM

We are struggling with this. My precious mother in law is almost 88 and still has her car for the grocery store and church. The problem is she has severe memory loss. It may take as little as 30 minutes and she will ask the question again. She cant remember her own grandchildren.(2 of them) Her physical health is really good. Her memory is awful. We are afraid she would get lost . She doesn’t remember how to use her cell phone so she doesn’t take it with her. She was asked if she got lost what would she do? She would ask for help. Call her daughter….a very common name….and she doesn’t have her number or remember the number. Call her son…..another common name…. You know the story. She just will not give up. We all feel so badly and just can’t get this done without hurting this wonderful lady. Huge struggles and I just hate it. Don’t know what to do.

DISABLE VEHICLE August 24, 2013 at 8:53 AM

When stubborn geriatrics leave you no option you are obligated to make the vehicle non functional. I just installed a steering wheel lock for a bone headed 81 year old who ended up in 100 miles away for a 4 mile trip.

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