With the number of elderly drivers increasing, more families are wrestling with the question of when it is necessary to take the car keys away from their aging parents. The thing is, one answer doesn’t fit across the board. Some people can drive well into their 90s while others may need to have their keys taken away when they are in their 70s. There are, however, warning signs that give loved ones an indication that it is time to have a conversation—regardless of how old someone is. And the best way to gauge whether it’s time for “the conversation” is to get into the car with your parent and pay close attention to whether they are:
- Getting into frequent fender benders or accidents
- Becoming easily distracted while driving
- Having difficulty seeing at night
- Hitting curbs
- Reacting slower to situations
- Having difficulty merging onto lanes
- Using poor judgment when making left turns
- Failing to follow traffic signs and signals
While safety of your loved one and others is the highest priority, keep in mind that taking away the keys can be a very emotional experience. Seniors know that giving up the right to drive means a loss of independence. On top of that, seniors do not want to burden their already busy family members with “taxi” duty. It’s particularly difficult when one’s family lives too far away and they do not have friends who drive.
According to the National Safety Council, the number of senior drivers will increase by over 70% over the next 20 years. Crash rates of seniors are higher than any other age group. There are resources available to help mature drivers make the decision about when it is time to hand over the keys. While it is important to remain open to have a conversation with their parents, according to a 2008 survey, most adult children would rather talk to their parents about making funeral plans than to discuss taking away the keys.
If, after some careful observation, you feel the time has come to discuss taking away the car keys, there are several things to keep in mind:
- Enlist the support of a doctor or driving rehabilitation specialist
- Always remember to be respectful and mindful of the person’s feelings
- Develop a transition trial period
o Try limiting the driving time; eliminate rush hour traffic or night driving
o Set limits for distance or time on the road
o Find someone to ride along for support; share rides to do errands
Being prepared to address the situation is the next step. Having an open dialog, free of emotion, armed with facts and solutions will make a big difference in how your loved one accepts handing over the keys.