Should Your Elderly Mom Or Dad Drive a Car?


In the 29 years I handled personal injury cases, most of them were car accidents. I represented injured people hundreds of times. When the victim was hit by an elder or older driver who should never have been driving, I always wondered why no one had taken the car keys away. Where were the adult children as elderly aging parents began to lose the ability to safely operate a car?

If we're talking about your Mom or Dad, and you've noticed that he or she just isn't safe behind the wheel anymore, I would like to encourage you to get involved. Most older individuals who are losing their ability to drive safely don't recognize it or are in denial and do not wish to face the terrible thought of giving up their independence and control. Loss of the ability to drive a car is often a life changing event, as the elder can no longer maintain their own care at home without transportation.

Denial is a very common reaction to the early warning signs of becoming a dangerous older driver. This can occur both among the elderly, who really, really don't want to have this privilege taken from them, and in their adult children, who then have to deal with the consequences of Mom or Dad needing alternate forms of transportation.

If this is happening with your aging parents(s), try these tips to handle this emotionally charged and difficult issue.

Tips for Dealing with a Dangerous Elderly Driver

  1. Approach the subject respectfully and at the best time of day for your parent. Ask if it's ok to talk about this now.
  2. Bring up the issue of driving while you express care and concern for how difficult it must be to even talk about it, but gently insist if your parent resists the subject.
  3. Encourage your elderly parent to see a doctor to find out what physical problems could be going on. Some people need a change in medication or other health care treatment to correct alertness, vision, or ability to attend to detail in driving. Go with him or her to the doctor if you can.
  4. If the doctor concurs that your aging parent should give up the keys, use the doctor as the reason for bringing up the subject and the reason for suggesting limiting or giving up driving.
  5. Research alternative kinds of transportation where your parent lives. If you are in a rural area, there may be limited options, but family members, neighbors, or church or synagogue members may be willing to help. Public transportation may be a good alternative in urban areas, even if your elderly parent has not used it before.

The subject of driving is always a "charged" one. Do your best to approach your loved one with understanding, but don't be afraid to stand your ground.

Carolyn Rosenblatt is a registered nurse and attorney who has 40 years of experience. She is the author of "The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents."

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Mother resides in Niagara Falls, NY. After riding with her to a doctor appointment, it was very clear that it was time. Keys were given to neighbor that has know and watch over Mother for years (three plus) and added to auto insurance policy as 'approved operator'. Though Mother never said, 'Why can't I drive myself?', nor has she asked, 'Where are my car keys?' I am quite sure there is some dislike for my actions. As has been said before, 'that's life, deal with it.'
Well---I am an elderly person, and can understand how the elderly ones feel and would likely react. Yes, I agree that (some of the elderly) do need to be reasoned with in regards to continuing to drive a vehicle when older. But! I also think it should be a fair and balanced opinion on both side of the issue, regarding the seriousness of each individual being considered as to weather they should drive or not. There are younger people that have handicaps created though one reason or other, that must drive vans or whatever with special sticks and devises put in the vehicles so that they can even lift themselves into the van in a wheel chair and herd the vehicle down the road. If they do have an accident or mishap, they are pretty helpless when it comes to rescue. This happened once near where we live. But they pulled him out of the vehicle and the ditch, and let him back under the wheel. I do think, that all persons, no matter whether young or old, should be required to be tested more often. Especially if they have serious medical reasons. This in itself would eliminate heart rending moments for the family members who are worried or concerned about someone they know is driving, that they feel needs checking out. That would be more fair to the elderly, and the handicapped persons, to be evaluated even yearly if necessary due to their health conditions. The very young driver up to the elderly, should all be evaluated if their driving habits were brought into question. A protection to themselves as well as others. joy lee, Give a hug.
If the DMV would insist on annual testing for people over a certain age, it would certainly take the heat off of many families who struggle with this issue. My MIL was a bad driver for many years but refused to see it. She drove her car like it was a badge of honor and was furious when we insisted she shouldn't be driving. At first we merely had the discussion of her not driving and I offered to drive her anywhere, anytime, night or day. She agreed she would no longer drive. But she would sneak her car out when she thought we were busy so we had to insist on the keys. That's when she got furious. She finally came around to seeing and admitting we did the right thing. It was not easy, but for the sake of others, it is an issue that has to be pressed when they can't self evaluate. There is no particular age when the discussion should begin, but rather an evaluation of the elder's capabilities. But for everyone's safety, I do wish the DMV would get involved and the issue would moot - if the DMV says you can't drive, you can't drive, end of discussion.