Taking the Keys: What To Do If Mom or Dad Won't Give Them Up

At some time you will feel concern or even fear that Mom or Dad should no longer drive an automobile. You have now reached a decision that the person for whom you are providing care must no longer drive.

Health conditions and even medications for these problems may negatively affect your parent's ability to drive safely. Driving ability is not determined by age but, instead, mainly by physical health and mental status.

Know that, for your parent, the action of taking away their driving privileges will probably be traumatic, and can even cause depression. You will be removing a significant source of independence, his or her ability to drive to church, the supermarket, the park for some sunshine or to visit friends. You will be removing a their right to drive as authorized by their driver's license, but it may be necessary.

The most effective method for broaching this subject is to have a candid talk with Mom or Dad, seeking to gain her or his voluntary agreement that it is time to consider alternate modes of transportation. State your reasons for such recommendations, such as side effects of medication, impaired vision, and threatening or limiting physical or health conditions.

Prepare and have ready any documentation you've gathered. Your request or urging should be based on care and concern for driving safety, and it should also include transportation solutions like those provided by family members, Dial-A-Ride, public transit, specialized minibuses or volunteer chauffeurs.

If the elder does surrender the keys, his or her driver's license can be exchanged for an identification card at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This document is vital for use in cashing checks and for identification purposes.

The above advice may work, but aging parents rarely agree with their adult child's concerns, at least not without a serious argument.

Ways to Legally Confiscate Your Elderly Parent's Keys

There are additional ways to capture the keys legally by invoking the counsel of others. Consider the following sources of assistance in this complex matter.

  • Their Physician
    Medical doctors are now urged by the American Medical Association (AMA) to offer counsel to caregivers regarding medical and health conditions, side effects of medications and other concerns. The AMA also recommends that they counsel the patient directly and even ask for and accept the car keys. Mature adults often readily accept recommendations by their physicians.
    Alternatively, the physician may agree to write a medical status report which you can present to your state Department of Motor Vehicles (more about this below).
  • Their Optometrist/Ophthalmologist
    As the best possible vision is vital to safe driving, the appropriate eye specialist can conduct a similar meeting with Mom or Dad, also asking for the keys. The ophthalmologist would be acting according to the AMA recommendation.
  • The State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
    The caregiver meets locally with department representatives, presents background and health information in an organized form, and then requests that Mom or Dad receive a request for new vision examinations, tests on paper, and even an examination drive with an inspector. Any action or decision is determined by the inspectors. Such notice can arrive prior to the renewal date on the driver's license.

    Know that there are no national standards or mandates for licensing drivers. Every state has its own program and standards.

    The New York state DMV does accept caregiver's requests for re-testing of older or challenged drivers, also stating that, if requested, it will not release the name of the person making the request. In other states, at some point, Mom or Dad will want to know who made the recommendation for new testing. And he or she deserves an answer.
  • The Family Attorney
    If there is an attorney representing Mom and Dad, or even the entire family, he or she may be consulted regarding the risks to their estate in the event of a serious accident. The risks may also cost younger family members their shares if the estate can be sued successfully by a victim or the victim's family. The attorney may also agree to meet with you and the parent(s) to present reasons for giving up the car keys as an important step.
  • Tell the Police
    No, not if your parent has not had an accident or a moving violation. If the driver has had such, the police may make their own request of the Department of Motor Vehicles for new testing. To seek counsel from the police may trigger the creation of an official report, even if there is no follow through. That document, though, is record that can be accessed and used, perhaps negatively, if and when there is an accident or driving violation.

    If there is an accident or violation in the future, the police have their established processes for covering, investigating and even making charges that could cause the DMV to require re-testing and even cancellation of a driver's license.
  • Just Take the Keys
    This can obviously cause conflict. In fact, there are documented cases of the caregiver having had the elder's car removed and then were under investigation by police when Mom or Dad filed a stolen vehicle report.
    Yes, there may be reason to hold the keys if you, as a caregiver, observe an episode of impaired ability in the elder, such as serious side effects from treatment or medication, serious fatigue as a side effect of chemotherapy in treatment for cancer, disorientation, or other. In taking the keys, tell the elder that you are "holding the keys so they don't get lost until you feel more like your good self."

    The New York DMV recommends that, if in spite of your trying to hold the keys, the older driver heads to the car, you should call the police to intercept the car and driver. Your state may recommend differently, so contacting your state DMV is an important step.

If there is valid reason to get Mom or Dad to give up the car keys legally, the first and best step is to convince the elder to do it voluntarily. Unlike the long processing time involved in most legal matters, capturing a loved one's car keys and/or driver's license may be accomplished rather quickly.

Research, prepare and talk to them directly. Then, if necessary, head to the experts and the DMV.

You May Also Like See all guides >

Veterans' Benefits

Find federal benefits available to your family.

Home Care

How to find, hire and manage home care.

Caregivers' Survival

Everything you need to care for an elderly family member.

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!