Trading Places – When It Becomes Necessary to Tell Your Elderly Parents to Stop Driving

There sometimes comes a point in the relationship between adult children and their parents that you begin to notice a shift in power.  Suddenly, the people whose favorite words were “because I said so” are the ones being counseled on their decisions.  Role reversal is an extremely difficult change for parents, but it is no less intense for the adult child.  One of the areas this shift becomes the most unpleasant is when the child needs to tell a parent they should no longer be driving.

Driving often equates to independence.  Take away the keys and you limit personal freedom.  Obviously when faced with the option of not being able to come and go as they choose, often the result is the parent chooses not to go down without a fight.  Still, there are warning signs that a parent has arrived at that fork in the road when it becomes necessary to find other ways of getting around.  AARP lists the following warning signs:


  • Changing lanes without signaling
  • Going through stop signs or red lights
  • Reacting slowly
  • Problems seeing road signs or traffic signals
  • Straying into other lanes
  • Going too fast or too slow for safety
  • Exhibiting problems making turns at intersections, especially left turns
  • Performing jerky stops or starts


If you see these signs on a consistent basis, it is necessary to have that dreaded, forthright discussion with your parents.  When you decide it’s time, there are a few basic rules to follow.  The first is watching your approach.  Things may get loud, but avoid using a nasty tone, criticizing them, or making them feel inadequate.

Don’t make discussion of their deteriorating driving abilities a head on collision.  Try bringing it up indirectly by mentioning you read an article about problems older drivers have or perhaps you know of someone who decided to stop driving.  Ask them if they’ve noticed changes in their own abilities.  Then talk about ideas of how they can get around and not feel housebound.  This will necessitate having an action plan in place with family and friends as to who will be available to drive your parents to their regular activities. Get everybody involved so that it isn’t just the responsibility of one or two drivers.  Also, include in that plan any public, private and community transportation services available.  Be sure to investigate public buses, subways, taxis, private drivers for hire, senior transportation services and volunteer driver services.

Be understanding if your parents resist change.  It may require more than one discussion to finally get them to relinquish the keys.  However, you do need to remain firm without being harsh.

Finally, if your parents insist on continuing to drive, ask their doctor, their clergy, or a close family friend to speak with them.  Sometimes it’s easier for parents to accept advice from an outside source than it is for them to accept it from their children. AARP notes on their web site that, “As a last resort, you can contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles and report unsafe driving.  Most states will contact older adults and have them take a driving test, revoking their license if necessary.”

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