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

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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.

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36 Comments

My father, since he was a young man, has always been very accident prone. He acts like he is in his own world. If there a a pothole he steps in it, if there is a sheet of ice he slips on it etc. He is not aware of his surroundings and hence has had many accidents, one of which almost got him killed. He was riding his bike, probably drifted off into his own world and did not see a car the blew a stop sign. He was hit head on, flew over the car, and luckily he just suffered a concussion. He is very depressed, has very poor judgement, and solves problems in a way that is different than most. I think he has a mental illness that was never diagnosed. Maybe attention deficit disorder, or a form of Scizophrenia. He does things in a very strange way. Ever since I was a child he has been falling off of ladders, tripping on curbs, losing his money. One problem after another. So his problems are NOT related to old age. He is just simply "out of it" and walks around in a fog. He has gotten many tickets for blowing stop signs and speeding. When I asked him what happened he always says, " I didn't see the sign". He has said this dozens of time. He never sees the sign or anything else and may hit a kid on a bike or a pedestrian. I am fed up with this. I called the DMV. They told me to file a report saying that he should not be driving because he has poor attention, does not see well, has very poor judgement/common sense and this has been going on his WHOLE LIFE. I went to the DMV with him and they made him take a road test. He flunked badly. Blew a stop sign, went 45mph down a residential street(he has no sense of speed), and also made a wide turn(he has had many sideswipe accidents). They suspended his license for 30 days. He has to retake the exam, go to driving school for 5 hours(which ofcourse costs money), and retake the road test. He says he failed the road test because "the weather was bad". It was an overcast day, but he would have failed on a sunny day or any day. No the problem is, is that his functioning is impaired. He is mentally ill... I don't feel mentally ill people should be behind the wheel. He has almost gotten himself killed from all of his falls just walking around. I am afraid he might hit someone while driving. He is of course very pissed at me. But he has an impairment and I wanted to give him a wake up call. He is still driving with his license suspended. When he had a license he never took it with him anyway. He could get locked up for this. My feeling at this point is.... if that happens too bad. He is extremely accident prone in and outside of a car and create problems all the time. Every time he has an accident it is $500 for the deductible, the money he blows on tickets, the money he blow on gas. If he does not drive it will save thousands of dollars over the next few years. I hope he does NOT get his license back. He still drives locally to get food. If he gets pulled over, he may get locked up or get ticketed for unlicensed operation. He is a sick man and needs something to help him snap out of his world. Maybe medication or something. But he needs to be neurologically tested. He also has very poor memory, always has since he was young. He comes across a a nice guy, but he is really the biggest smuck on the planet. He never can say no. Let's the world take advantage of him. He is also a passive aggressive. Deep down he is very angry, but was raised not to express it. So he does strange things to sabatage you. He also loses him money on a regular basis. He pulls out a twenty to pay for something, 40 dollar will fall the floor and he will walk away. He doesn't count his money, and routinely loses things. I think he is going to end up in jail if he continues to drive or hitting someone. He has always had these mental health problems but now on top of that he does not see well. He sees nothing wrong with his driving. He says, "things happen". Not like to him. I have also threatened to call the police if he continues to take the car out without a license. I know this is cold blooded and ruthless, but I am sending a message. I hoped for many years he would change, get better etc. No he will always be a smuck and half out of it. And will always cause problems. He's a dagwood bumstead. The bumbling flumbler. I saw him on the line at the DMV. He has a scar in the front of his head from one fall, a scar on the back from another, and he drops his paperwork. The guy is a mess! And should never drive again. I have threatened with bodily harm if he ever goes near my car. As he has taken my car out, knowing he shouldn't, and the car comes back with bumper damage and a blow clutch. For a impaired guy he does like to get around. But he causes a lot of problems when he gets around. I think I am going to have to call the police on him, and perhaps have him put away. This will solve a lot of problems. The guy is a weak, meak sick man. He has no business behind the wheel or even walking down the street. He might trip on a soda can.
My father-in-law has some cognitive decline and vision changes that we knew were making it dangerous for him to drive. He insisted on driving anyway. We decided to rely on outside experts. We told him about a company who charges about $300 for in-depth testing of a senior's driving capabilities. We got him to agree that the test results would be the final word on his driving. Prior to spending the $ on the full test, we took him to an occupational therapist who did some preliminary testing at a much lower cost. With the kind of physical testing the therapist used, she was able to demonstrate to my father-in-law exactly why he shouldn't be driving. When he saw how poorly he did on tests such as reaction time and peripheral vision and she explained consequence scenarios to him that could result from those specific deficiencies, he willingly gave up his keys. We arranged for multiple transportation options for him and he hasn't looked back.
Any comments or advice about this would be appreciated. I really don't think there is anything that can be done. Maybe he should see a psychiatrist and be placed on a medication to help him snap out of it and function better. He has been to psychiatrist's before, but his has not changed him at all. People don't change much.....they get worse.